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Professor Damien Thompson

Director of SSPC, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals, University of Limerick

Collaboration between academic research institutions and the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland is crucial in helping keep the sector ahead of international competition. 

The pharmaceutical industry is critical to Ireland’s economy with 40% of exports from within the sector. In a rapidly changing landscape, Ireland must stay ahead of the competition internationally — but sustainably. Core to this is the relationship between academic research institutions and the pharmaceutical industry.

Long-term challenges

Professor Damien Thompson highlights the research sector’s role in delivering high-quality multidisciplinary research that addresses long-term challenges in manufacturing. It can capture future needs and opportunities for emerging research areas such as personal medicines, product design, developing efficient manufacturing, vaccine research and novel diseases.

“As such a big part of Ireland’s economy depends critically on pharma, it is about doing research that keeps our industry partners at the front,” says Thompson, who is Scientific Director at the SSPC (Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals), a hub of Irish research expertise developing innovative technologies to address challenges facing the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries.

Sustainable manufacturing

Thompson, who is also a professor of molecular modelling at the University of Limerick, says the focus is on bringing ‘disruptive change’ to the manufacture of drug substances and products via end-to-end manufacturing methodologies.

An important advance is in flow chemistry and continuous manufacturing, rather than batch production.

“That minimises waste, use of solvents and avoids intermediates that may lead to toxic by-products,” he says. “As you make the process more efficient, you cut down the steps and time needed to do it. Doing things smarter makes them safer and more eco-friendly. Sustainability is not just on the agenda — it is the agenda.”

Sustainability is not just on the agenda — it is the agenda.

Digital transformation

He says digital transformation is massively important, with artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing being adopted at ‘astounding speed’ by the pharmaceutical industry.

“It is streamlining and accelerating the production process,” explains Thompson. “Industry is aware that it produces huge amounts of data which it was not always able to digest. It is now putting that data to use as machines spot patterns instantaneously.”

Talent and technology

The role of universities is to produce graduates who will interface with these advances and “combine talent and technology.”

SSPC students work in teams developing core skills in wet lab techniques and data modelling, while the industry communicates its talent requirements. Society sees direct benefits of better, safer drugs with improved efficacy and decreased toxicity, improving patient compliance. Thompson says investing now to accelerate digital transformation will futureproof pharma manufacturing in Ireland.

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