The future of innovation in Ireland


“If you look at the cuts in the public sector, the science budget has been relatively lightly touched. This sends a signal at a very high level that science, the knowledge economy, and the smart training of people are very important for our economic recovery,” says Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland.

There are murmurs in the industry that earlier stages of research could find a home in Ireland—and some indigenous players are already innovating, if one believes in the promise of the pipeline of an Irish biotech like Alkermes. Multinationals may follow suit, if their Irish operations can continue to demonstrate value and if indigenous companies continue to offer opportunities for valuable collaboration.

But whether the science is in drug discovery or in process development, Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Ireland’s support agency for the sciences, believes his job is to work with the private sector to create an economic impact. As evidenced by the fact that its science agency falls under the Department of Jobs and Enterprise rather than the Department of Education, Ireland is betting on the innovation economy to bring it out of the recession. It is betting on continued investment from foreign players, it is incubating its own companies for the world stage, and it is increasingly creating links between the two on its course to climb even higher in the value chain.

Forward-thinking sales operations are also dreaming of a day when Ireland can capitalize on its critical mass of stakeholders across nearly every facet of the industry, and build new global roles for Ireland: manufacturing hub, development hub—and why not center for global commercialization activities?

In commenting on the effects of the recession, Alan Looney, managing director of the internationalizing Irish chemicals supplier National Chemical Company, says: “Perhaps the best thing that happened to us was the economic crisis. I believe that the Irish people genuinely have shown their resolve in how they have responded to hardship. We have not demonstrated in the streets; instead, we stood up to the challenge by working harder, often offering more for less. This is true of the public system, and it is true of industry. We have become more competitive relative to our European neighbors.

“We also have come to a firmer realization that we must compete. In Ireland, we are operating from an open economy—one of the most open in the world. We have to compete globally. I think the pharmaceutical industry has responded, and we are the better for it.“

To borrow an old boxing metaphor often used by the Irish, Ireland continues to ‘punch above its weight,’ for and within the industry.

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