Ireland’s life science industry is an industrial powerhouse that is helping to make the world a healthier place, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla told an audience in Dublin as he accepted the third IDA Ireland Special Recognition Award for his company’s contribution to economic growth in the State over decades.
He recalled the US drug giants’s first plant in Ireland – a citric acid manufacturing operation in Cork in 1969 – and said Pfizer had been attracted to Ireland for many reasons including, as your Taoiseach once said, because Ireland is an island at the centre of the world.
Pfizer and Dr Bourla are the third recipients of the award after Apple’s Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet/Google.
Presenting the award, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was “an acknowledgment of the enormous value that the Irish people and the Irish Government place on our partnership with you and your hugely positive contribution to Ireland”.
“The work undertaken at your facilities all across Ireland saves live sand improves the lives of people all across the world and this is something you should all be proud of. It is more important than the bottom line, important as that is,” the Taoiseach added.
In conversation with IDA Ireland chief executive Michael Lohan after the presentation, Dr Bourla said the biggest lesson from the company’s experience with Covid-19 was the power of science and the potential of dedicated people.
“Nothing is impossible. If you believe in something and you are committed, things can happen,” he said. “People never know what they can and cannot achieve and, if anything, they have always a tendency to severely underestimate their ability to achieve difficult tasks.”
He said the company’s current priority was in oncology, “the battle against cancer”, and that was where the bulk of its research investment was being directed.
“There are so many diseases that are looking for solutions and treatments and I believe science will deliver solutions in the next decade, but there is nothing that is scaring people across the world more than cancer.”
He spoke of his hope for a class of drugs, called antibody drug conjugates, to deliver breakthrough treatments for the disease and noted that Ireland, which has the company’s largest manufacturing capacity worldwide for biologic products, would play a central role in that area.
Asked about the biggest challenges in the business, Dr Bourla referenced the scientific challenge to chasing treatments for conditions that have defied the best minds for decades, and finance, noting that “unfortunately, it is not goodwill that is going to find solutions to these devastating diseases, it is the investment of billions and billions of dollars.”
Persuading to put their money into an area where just one in 100 projects might succeed required protection for intellectual property and access to patients for the medicines that successfully emerge from the process, he said.
Whatever happens, he said, Ireland would be critical to Pfizer’s future development. “As we see our way to more efficient ways of working, one thing is certain, Pfizer is committed to Ireland.”