€100bn life sciences sector calls for strategy to improve Irish patient care

Ireland exports €100bn of pharmaceuticals to the EU yet it lags when it comes to providing timely access to medicines for Irish patients.

Experts from Ireland’s life sciences industry have drawn a parallel between the country being a global exporter of medicines but a laggard when it comes to the country’s own health needs.

The Annual Guaranteed Irish Pharmaceutical Forum, sponsored by MSD Ireland, featured an industry leading line-up within the pharmaceutical sector.

“Timely patient access to medicines should be the goal of any Government policy … and yet we don’t have a life sciences strategy from Government that incorporates medicines and access to medicines”

The panel – which featured industry thought leaders Matt Moran, director of BioPharmaChem Ireland at Ibec, Brenda Dooley CEO AXIS Consulting and Michael O’Connell country director of Biogen and President of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) – outlined Ireland’s position as a major global player in pharmaceutical production.

The sector employs more than 30,000 people in Ireland directly with Irish exports exceeding €100bn.

Ireland is now the largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals in the EU accounting for over 50% of all exports from the country.

Ireland is a global life sciences leader

“Ireland is one of the main hubs of manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals in the world. Our reputation internationally is second to none at this stage,” said Michael O’Connell Country Director of Biogen and President of IPHA.

While Ireland is a global leader in the pharmaceutical industry, timely access to medicines in Ireland is a concern. Brenda Dooley CEO AXIS Consulting explains, “If you have a medicine that requires a full Health Technology Assessment (HTA) you can be looking at a period to when that medicine is reimbursed of up to 2.6 years. That’s much longer than in other jurisdictions. The industry benchmark is about 1 year when you look at other European countries and the UK. We need to ask ourselves if we are happy being the country that is slower at providing access to medicines to our citizens than our neighbouring countries?”

Resourcing, and the availability of resources to evaluate medicines is a factor in the delayed reimbursement of medicines. Michael O’Connell Country Director of Biogen and President of IPHA said: “As we move forward, we are now in a different era, where we are now looking at far more complex medicines, brilliant innovations, Gene and Cell Therapy (GCT), and potential cures. We are dealing with far more complicated and complex medicines. Unless we have a conversation between Government, industry, and the key stakeholders in that process we will be left behind. Patients will be left behind. We should have a robust system to make sure that the cost effectiveness of new innovations are affordable to the State…why do we have to wait 2 years for some new medicines to be available for patients and their clinicians? It will only happen with a collaborative approach from Government, and everyone involved.”

Life sciences Government strategy

The panel highlighted the challenges facing the industry including talent retention and building a workforce for the future of pharma in Ireland. Matt Moran Director of BioPharmaChem Ireland said, “As we see the industry transitioning to an industry based more on digitalisation in manufacturing, and as we address the challenges for sustainability, you are looking at skillsets that may not yet exist. We are trying to work with educators to generate the workforce for our industry. The industry will stay firmly focused on the future, ensuring that Ireland remains the location of choice for the commercialisation of all new molecules, with a focus on developing indigenous life sciences companies.”

The panel also discussed the need for a Life Sciences Government Strategy for the industry. Michael O’Connell Country Director of Biogen and President of IPHA said: “18 out of 20 of the biggest life sciences manufacturers in the world operate here in Ireland. Some of those companies in the reimbursement process are finding it difficult to get their innovations to patients in a reasonable timeframe. We need to make sure that as we invest in manufacturing, we align that to the access to medicines. Timely patient access to medicines should be the goal of any Government policy … and yet we don’t have a life sciences strategy from Government that incorporates medicines and access to medicines.”

Closing the event, Mairead McCaul Managing Director, MSD Ireland Human Health said, “I’m delighted to have been part of this thought-provoking and insightful discussion. Events such as this facilitate crucial discussions with fellow industry experts to explore how we can build on our past and current success as an industry and continue to thrive and hold our place as a global leader in the pharmaceutical industry. MSD Ireland is a long-standing member of Guaranteed Irish and acknowledges the role it plays in promoting Ireland and facilitating networking opportunities such as this.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.