How Munster’s Pharmaceutical Industry is Responding to the Global Race for a Covid-19 Vaccine
The global race for a Covid-19 vaccine has led to a surge in pharmaceutical activity and recruitment across Munster, writes Aisling Kiernan
The global search for Covid-19 treatments has resulted in a surge of pharma activity in Ireland and Munster.
Given the scale of the pandemic, more than 160 vaccines are under development across the world. Such treatments normally take years and even decades to research, produce and get approval for medical use but these time frames have been condensed significantly by companies racing to find a cure.
The concentration of pharmaceutical companies in Ireland, and in particular Munster, means the volume of work here has increased significantly and a number of companies across the region have been recruiting staff for projects directly and indirectly connected to Covid-19 research.
A&C Bio Buffer based in Limerick has accelerated its recruitment process to secure the staff it needs to provide critical raw materials essential for a Covid vaccine manufacturing project – led by a German vaccine developer – which is now at stage three of human clinical trials.
Irish director, Gearoid O’Rourke explained to the Irish Examiner how the company refocused operations as the pandemic spread.
“Covid-19 happened and we were dealing with a large bio-company in Germany; they came to us and asked us to stop everything that we were doing for them at that time and to instead turn around three products that they needed within five weeks,” he said.
“Under normal circumstances, these products would take between 16 and 20 weeks to develop but because of Covid-19 they were needed more urgently.
“We took the project on because the company was taking on a Covid-19 vaccine candidate and we believed that they were one of the front runners for it. We went ahead and worked nights, weekends, etc, to get the job done and we delivered on time.
“That then allowed the company to put their vaccine into human clinical trials and they are now one of the first five companies – globally – to get their vaccine into that stage.”
Mr O’Rourke says it’s the expertise and manpower within the company that afforded it the opportunity to manufacture the crucial raw materials needed for a Covid-19 vaccine.
He also pointed to the company’s growth in recent months. “As a company, we have been growing over the last few months but the success of this project has accelerated our recruitment process,” he added.
“We have been advertising positions constantly for the last five or six weeks because if the vaccine gets the approval – which hopefully it will – we will be doing the commercial batches of those raw materials for the vaccine producer.”
Beckman Coulter, which manufactures a key serology product for antibody testing, announced over 30 open positions at its site in Co Clare, last week.
Site Director Orlaith Lawler said the company was “delighted to be able to contribute to the world-wide fight against Covid-19” and that employees have been “working around the clock” to bring the tests to the market quickly.
Separately, Regeneron sought additional workers in Limerick for its Covid-19 response efforts. The New York-headquartered company signed a $450m (€395m) contract with the US government to produce thousands of doses of its REGN-COV2 antibody cocktail to treat and prevent infection from Covid-19.
Thermo Fisher which took over the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) manufacturing plant in Ringaskiddy in Cork last year said it is supporting governments, industries and academia as they accelerate development and production of Covid-19 vaccines, therapies and other treatments. The company is now supporting more than 200 of these projects globally.
The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) said that Ireland and pharmaceutical clusters like Cork, in particular, have been to the forefront in terms of innovation with the presence of big-name multinationals including Pfizer, Novartis, Janssen and BioMarin.
Bernard Mallee, Director of Communications and Advocacy, IPHA told the Irish Examiner that as the pandemic unfolded, the pharma industry here has responded in three key areas – science, supply and support.
“Cork is a hub for efforts in all three of these areas and the industry is searching for vaccines and treatments while ensuring continuity of care by making medicines and getting them to patients and contributing in-kind and financially to voluntary organisations, hospitals and patient groups,” he said.
“Ringaskiddy is one of Europe’s most important biopharmaceutical manufacturing clusters. In other parts of the county, in places like Little Island, Dunderrow, Brinny and Carrigtwohill, companies such as MSD, Eli Lilly, Gilead and AbbVie are helping to put Cork on the global biopharmaceutical innovation map.
“Where once companies like Ford, Verolme, Sunbeam and Dunlop dominated Cork’s enterprise landscape, now it is replete with the names of some of the world’s biggest biopharmaceutical innovators.”
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