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Charleen O’Keeffe

Partner, William Fry

Laura Scott

Partner, William Fry

The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines has put life sciences in the spotlight, casting a positive glow over the industry’s ability to innovate. Global pandemic aside however, there is continuing progress and innovation across the life sciences industry.

Charleen O’Keeffe and Laura Scott, partners in law firm William Fry, leading advisors to the sector, have been well placed to observe recent trends emerging among life science clients.

Digitalisation of the life sciences sector

The life sciences sector globally is undergoing a digital transformation. The potential benefits of emerging technologies to the industry are vast.

“By fully embracing digitalisation, life science companies can achieve superior patient outcomes in terms of their products as well as drive efficiencies and costs savings” says O’Keeffe.

There has been a clear move away from the ‘one size fits all‘ approach to medicines and medical devices, according to Scott. This has been replaced by an increasing focus on personalised therapies and patient-centricity, enabled in part by digitalisation. Life science companies are harnessing data and analytics to catalyse the development of innovative products and services.

The benefits of digitalisation are also clear from a cost-effectiveness point of view. O’Keeffe points to the example of new drug development,

“From the analysis of unwieldy volumes of clinical data, to the use of digital communication platforms for improved interactions between patients and doctors and fast and secure data exchange using blockchain technology, digitalisation will have a significant impact on the bottom line for contract research organisations and companies developing new products.”

Indeed, Ireland is currently Europe’s second-largest exporter of medtech products, with annual export values exceeding €12.6 billion.

A move towards disease prevention and early detection

Going hand in hand with this is an increase in R&D being dedicated to prevention and early detection. For example, there has been a rapid evolution of smart, wearable technology, as well as the growing development of in-vitro diagnostic medical devices and implantable medical devices.

“We have progressed from pacemakers for arrhythmia patients to implantable cerebellar stimulators for the treatment of movement associated disorders,” Scott says. Similarly, O’Keeffe points to the growing number of indigenous start-ups involved in cutting-edge technologies as evidence of Ireland’s prowess. This acceleration of innovation in the medtech space looks set to continue and Ireland is likely to play a key role in the industry’s future, spring-boarding from its well-established reputation as a manufacturing centre. Indeed, Ireland is currently Europe’s second-largest exporter of medtech products, with annual export values exceeding €12.6 billion.

As medical devices have developed, so too has the regulatory framework protecting patients. Last month, the Medical Devices Regulation became fully applicable across the EU, signifying a much anticipated strengthening of the regulatory framework for medical devices in Europe. O’Keeffe says that getting to grips with additional obligations under the new regime has presented challenges for all economic operators across the supply chain.

The future of medicines

Looking ahead, both Scott and O’Keeffe again point to the growing importance of personalised medicines and the treatment of rare diseases.

Their clients are increasingly focused on breakthrough treatments, such as advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs). These medicines, based on genes, tissues or cells, offer “ground-breaking new opportunities for the treatment of disease and injury and have the potential to make truly personalised medicine a reality.”

Scott is optimistic about Ireland’s role in this future of innovation. “Ireland punches well above its weight in the life sciences industry. We have maintained a track record as a centre of innovation and excellence for manufacturing, from traditional small molecule pharmaceuticals to large molecule biopharmaceutical manufacturing more recently.” Support institutions like the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, which offers training and research solutions for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, contribute to maintaining this reputation.

O’Keeffe agrees, adding that with the correct supports, Ireland has an opportunity to remain at the vanguard of the global life sciences sector, and in particular, to become a hub for the global supply, management and manufacture of ATMPs.

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