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Paul Duffy

VP Small Molecule Operations, Pfizer

Lesson learned during the COVID-19 pandemic could see the pharmaceutical industry look at new business models for research and development of news drugs and vaccines.

The manufacture and development of the COVID-19 vaccine was a massive learning process for pharmaceutical companies and saw traditional procedures replaced by new approaches due to the urgency.

For organisations such as Pfizer, several processes that would traditionally have occurred sequentially were run in parallel, explains Paul Duffy, who is the company’s VP (Small Molecule Operations).

However, he also acknowledges that the business discovered there was a huge amount to be gained from that switch.

Learning experience

Pfizer’s Grange Castle site is a world leading biologics manufacturing facility, and the team were involved from the outset in working with other plants in the network to undertake quality testing. Pfizer’s Ringaskiddy and Newbridge sites have also been playing a role in scaling up manufacturing for Pfizer’s investigational antiviral treatment and the company has invested USD 1 billion at risk to support the manufacturing and distribution of this investigational treatment.

“The biggest learning has been the vaccine story,” explains Duffy. “The ability to move from vaccine discovery to manufacturing and on to supplying doses at such pace has been extraordinary.”

“Our recognition that good science demands rigor, our commitment to patient safety and our close partnership with regulators were hugely pivotal in achieving success with our vaccine.”

Our pipeline is vast, and I am very optimistic about our ability to move new medicines through the pipeline safely, reliably and successfully.

Taking on financial risk

There was, however, a financial risk; pharmaceutical companies traditionally wait for approval before investing in manufacturing. But in the case of the COVID vaccine, Pfizer invested USD 2 billion in manufacturing before it was proven to be effective and approved.

“That was a very big bet, but we would not have been able to supply the vaccines so quickly without making it,” Duffy acknowledges.

Future of the company

He remains positive about the future of the company both globally and in Ireland. From relatively small beginnings in 1969 when the company established a citric acid manufacturing plant in Ringaskiddy, Pfizer has grown to employ more than 4,000 people across five facilities in Cork, Kildare and Dublin.

“Our pipeline is vast, and I am very optimistic about our ability to move new medicines through the pipeline safely, reliably and successfully,” he says. “It is significant that the production of the mRNA drug substance for the COVID-19 vaccine will be done at our Grange Castle facility. It is really exciting to think about the role that mRNA can play in future medicines.”

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