Eli Lilly has been operating in Ireland for more than 40 years, beginning with its purchase of a farm near Kinsale, Co Cork, which has grown to become one of the company’s key manufacturing sites.
The company also has a site at Little Island, where its Global Business Solutions (GBS) centre has been based for a decade.
Todd Winge joined the team in Kinsale as general manager and vice-president almost two years ago and his journey so far has been an eventful but enjoyable one. Winge, who previously ran Lilly plants on the US East Coast as well as Indianapolis, where the company is headquartered, was glad to have nine months of familiarisation under his belt before the pandemic hit.
“In that time, I got to meet all of the folks on-site and learn the business. I have found the people to be very friendly, it is a very welcoming site. It has been a very enjoyable two years here. The operations here in Cork, both in Kinsale and the GBS in Little Island, are a significant part of the company’s global operations.
“We have three different cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and that, combined with a very talented group of people from a technical standpoint, means the Kinsale site is a key component in launching and supplying many of Lilly’s newest medicines. GBS in Little Island started off as a shared service provider and they have now become a centre of excellence across a huge diverse range of solutions.
“They are co-ordinating clinical trials and supporting patients and healthcare professionals globally. We feel really privileged as a company to be in Cork and serving everything from clinical research support all the way through manufacturing and patient support”.
Winge pays tribute to the staff who have had to step up to the plate to keep manufacturing running in the challenging context of Covid and lockdown — ensuring continued supply to people relying on medications while also investigating possible Covid-19 treatments.
“The commitment and resilience of the Kinsale and GBS teams have been inspiring since the beginning of the pandemic. Obviously, for both sites, keeping employees safe was our first mandate. In Little Island, they pretty much went to a 100% work-from-home strategy based on the work that they do, but for Kinsale, we have a large number of people on site who are making and testing medicines as well as all of the staff required to keep all our facilities running,” says Winge.
“The second thing beyond keeping employees safe was maintaining a reliable supply of medicines to our patients that are relying on them — a lot of them are life-changing or life-dependent medicines.
“The third was taking all the scientific and manufacturing expertise we have here to attack the pandemic — things like looking at existing, approved medicines that might have an application in Covid-19, as well as developing new treatments — for example, our neutralising antibody therapies.”
The pandemic has also raised awareness of the vital role that clinical research plays in healthcare.
“It has shown the value of innovative medicines to society. Now it is not uncommon that a scientist or doctor is a standard member of the guest panel on news or current affairs programmes, to assess different variants, drugs and infection rates. The other thing that we have seen is increasing interest in third-level STEM courses from school-leavers, which is a very positive sign for a company like Lilly, where we rely on a constant pool of talent from UCC, MTU and so on. Having that interest sparked in science and medicine is certainly beneficial for companies in the bio-pharma industry,” says Winge.
“Cork is a wonderful location for bio-pharma and we have developed a close relationship with UCC and MTU which is definitely an advantage,” says Winge. “There is also critical mass here from a bio-pharma standpoint with other companies and that gives us an eco-system for world-class suppliers. It is becoming increasingly competitive, the more companies and operations that we have got here which is why we really focus on trying to be an employer of choice.”
The company is dedicated to ensuring all its employees feel equal and valued, while some of the flexible work practices that were vital during the pandemic will be maintained in the future.
“We have many programmes here to foster a culture of equality and inclusion. On the flexibility front, we have for a long time been a pioneer of family-friendly and flexible working policies. Of course, during the pandemic, that was brought to a whole new level with remote working and people having to deal with kids that were home-schooling, the creches being closed and issues like that.
"As a company, we aim to be flexible, especially during the pandemic, and we are now looking at what our future flexibility policies are going to be in that context. We are in the midst of developing those policies right now, and hope to have those in place in late summer.”
As a large employer in Cork, Lilly also has a significant role to play in the wider community.
“We have a combined employee and contractor workforce of 2,500 people in Kinsale and Little Island and we have been very much engaged in the community when it comes to volunteering and philanthropy — especially during the course of Covid, when we donated PPE supplies to the local hospitals, nursing homes and so on. We play a significant role in Cork, not only as an employer but also in terms of the contractors that support our operations both here and in Little Island, that has a knock-on effect on the entire Cork area.”
Winge says while the increasing pace of innovation poses some challenges for the company, it is committed to delivering new therapies globally.
“The need to continuously innovate is a requirement for a company like ours. It is a complex business and the pace at which we are developing and manufacturing drugs has certainly increased. For every successful molecule that launches to market, there are thousands of failures in research and development, even in late-stage clinical trials. Our mission here in Kinsale is to take the molecules that are successful and turn them into medicines for patients around the world who need them and we are definitely up for that challenge in Kinsale.”
He points to Lilly’s “robust and exciting” pipeline and an almost constant flow of new research data across its portfolio of products.
“Our work is in the five areas of diabetes, oncology, immunology, neuro-degeneration and pain. We have been working on Alzheimer’s disease research for 30 years and more recently working on Covid-19. We have several therapies that are looking very promising that will definitely be manufactured in Cork.”
Lilly’s Global Business Solutions (GBS) centre in Little Island, Cork, has been a significant success story for the company, recently celebrating 10 years of operations.
It has evolved from a shared service provider to global business partner across many of Lilly’s key business units, providing innovative solutions that add value in a number of areas including finance, supply chain, HR data management, customer support, and clinical trial capabilities.
“Since opening our doors in April 2011, our team has increased ten-fold working in many diverse business units across the lifecycle of our ground-breaking medicines,” said Mike Smith, GBS general manager.
“In that time, our vision has been not just to deliver the services that are asked of us, but to develop new and innovative solutions that help transform the global organisation and ultimately make life better for the patients we serve at Lilly.”
GBS Cork was initially established as one of four shared service centres — the other three being Kuala Lumpur, Indianapolis, Mexico City — which were created to standardise financial services for Lilly across the globe.
“Upon stabilisation in 2012, we adopted the mantra of ‘Stop Implementing and Start Innovating’, believing the time was right to leverage our experiences beyond finance,” said Mr Smith. “We spent the next five years successfully applying our business blueprint to new business areas across Lilly including customer meeting services [HCP contracting — EMEA], medical information [customer care — EMEA] and global customer operations [master data for customer-facing applications].”
According to Mr Smith, the concurrent rebrand from shared service centre to global business solutions created capacity to do “more with less” and shifted the focus from transactions to innovation and growth.
The likes of clinical trial management, scientific communications, global HR solutions, legal, and automation among the newer capabilities added to the portfolio in Cork.
With more than 1,000 employees, across 40 nationalities, speaking 44 different languages, diversity is “something we live and breathe”, said Mr Smith.
“Our journey is made all the more enjoyable when we reflect on the talent of our people and the inclusive, nurturing, and fun culture they have all helped create. A dedicated people development team, diversity, and inclusion champions and many varied job opportunities, are just some of what make GBS Cork a safe place to thrive for our employees.”