The State’s pricing deal with the pharmaceutical industry ends this year, and the funding of innovation must become a priority, if patients here are to have the early access that patients elsewhere in western Europe have, says Bernard Mallee
For 50 years, Ireland’s pharmaceutical industry has been attracting major investments in manufacturing and research, creating tens of thousands of jobs and supplying medicines for complex illnesses.
Cork Harbour is a pharmaceutical cluster of European sequence, hosting companies like Novartis, Pfizer, Janssen, and BioMarin.
Further south, Eli Lilly has a major presence in Dunderrow, near Kinsale, while, just north of there, in Brinny, 850 employees are developing and supplying complex biologic medicines. The spill-over effects for the local economy are huge. That’s before we consider the health impact in people’s lives.
Cork has a great pharmaceutical innovation story. We are telling only a very small part of it through a national public campaign called ‘Innovate for Life’. This is a story of medicines in society.
‘Innovate for Life’ is a digital-led initiative, organised into three pillars: the places, the patients, and the pioneers.
‘The places’ shows the industry’s economic impact in communities like Cork and Westport, Co Mayo. ‘The patients’ profiles the human impact of medical innovation, while ‘the pioneers’ celebrates the new science behind the latest treatments and cures.
The campaign is captured in one mini-documentary, and a selection of captioned still images. Digital channels, primarily Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, will deliver the content at intervals until the end of the year. The mini-documentary will debut at ‘Innovate For Life’, IPHA’s annual conference in Croke Park, Dublin, in November.
‘Innovate for Life’, which has been endorsed by IDA Ireland, is a one-industry story, voiced by the people who make medicines, the patients who use them, and the communities that benefit from the presence of pharmaceutical companies. The stories illustrate the impact of innovation.
Take Eoghan Quinn, a 31-year-old renewable energy executive from Waterford, who has type 1 diabetes. Eoghan recently landed back in Cork after a solo kitesurf from France. His aim was to raise money for Diabetes Ireland.
On the kitesurf, Eoghan managed his blood glucose and insulin levels and his story shows that illness need not define you negatively. It can set you free.
‘Innovate for Life’ demonstrates the value of innovation, which can be owned by everyone with a stake in patient care, not just the pharmaceutical industry. It is an attempt, too, to offer a version of the industry that can inspire hope for human health, rather than a narrative too often skewed by misconceptions and rows over price.
As an industry, we recognise concerns over rising costs, particularly in the context of growing demand and health system sustainability. It is important that they be addressed through dialogue, knowing that medical innovation must be affordable and supported by the right policy environment.
The people working in the pharmaceutical industry are a vital part of Ireland’s healthcare future.
As our healthcare system faces increasing demographic and medical challenges, it is only through innovation, in areas like dementia, oncology, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, that we will be able to manage current and future medical needs. At any one time, more than 7,000 medicines are in development globally. CAR-T cell therapies can help the body fight back against cancer, replacing a lifetime of aggressive chemotherapy treatment. Research into gene therapies could cure haemophilia B, a rare but severe blood disorder that affects patients from birth. Cell therapy holds the potential to control blood sugar, replacing continuous insulin therapy for patients with type 1 diabetes.
Anti-bacterial, monoclonal antibodies are offering new ways to fight antibiotic resistance. Research in Alzheimer’s could delay the onset of the disease, or slow its progression by stopping the build-up of plaques in the brain. Such treatments have the potential to improve, prolong, or save lives. Their implications for society are enormous. But they are only worthwhile if they reach patients in time.
No one would spend 12 years, invest all their time, expertise, and resources in developing a new medicine which, in the end, takes years to reach the patient. That has happened too often in Ireland. Meanwhile, patients in other western European countries can get the latest medicines.
We need to get better at managing the introduction of new medicines in the health services. That will take political and policy will, and a better grasp of the future value of innovation. This is the last year of the industry’s deal with the State on pricing and supply of medicines.
We need a mind-shift in how medicine spending is weighed — from a cost to be written off to an investment in outcomes. We must develop our science education and skills base, and our healthcare data infrastructure, so that we can invest in what works. We must protect an intellectual property system that helps innovators to pursue the long, complex, and risky process of bringing new treatments to patients.
So, let us resolve to work together to get the most out of medical innovation. That is what ‘Innovate for Life’ is about — creating a stage all of us can own, whether you are a place, a patient, or a pioneer.
Bernard Mallee is director of communications and advocacy for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association