Irish Times Business Person of the Year: three more contenders
Peter Hamilton profiles more of the 12 business leaders shortlisted for award
Dr Elaine Sullivan, chief executive of Carrick Therapeutics. Photograph: Dave Meehan
From groundbreaking deals to promising funding rounds, the winners for October, November and December of this year’s Irish Times Business Person of the Month Awards are among the country’s most accomplished business leaders.
The monthly award, in association with KPMG, was created to mark excellence and outstanding achievement in the field, and is open to business people at home and abroad as well as international executives leading major companies in the Republic.
Here we profile the winners from October, November and December.
Dr Elaine Sullivan – Carrick Therapeutics
October’s award went to Dr Elaine Sullivan, the chief executive of Carrick Therapeutics, after the company obtained the rights to develop and commercialise a groundbreaking ovarian cancer treatment known as CT900.
Under the agreement with global specialist healthcare company BTG, Carrick gained exclusive worldwide development and commercialisation rights for CT900, which was discovered by the Institute of Cancer Research in London.
Dr Sullivan said the company has already commenced preparations for additional clinical trials for the drug, which has the potential to be a “highly effective treatment for women with ovarian cancer”.
The pharma industry veteran established Carrick in 2016, initially raising $95 million to coincide with its launch. The company is focused on developing pioneering treatments to defeat many of the most aggressive and resistant cancers.
It was Dr Sullivan’s father who prompted her to start up in business after he was diagnosed as having an aggressive stomach cancer, and was told he had only a short time to live. Having been offered a new therapy, he lived for another three years after his diagnosis.
The entrepreneur herself has extensive experience in the industry, having previously held roles as vice-president of global external research and development at Eli Lilly and vice president of R&D for new opportunities at AstraZeneca.
Dr Sullivan was rewarded in October when she was named the “best emerging entrepreneur” at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
And with teams in Dublin and Oxford, Sullivan is now aiming to build Carrick into Europe’s leading biotech oncology company, continuing its collaboration with world-class scientists from institutions including Cambridge University, Imperial College London and Oxford University.
Dr Nora Khaldi – Nuritas
In November, Dr Nora Khaldi, the founder and chief science officer of Dublin biotechnology company Nuritas, was chosen as the Business Person of the Month.
This came after the company secured€30 million from the European Investment Bank to enable it scale up development of new therapeutics in areas such as anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory and diabetes treatments.
Nuritas uses big data techniques to discover peptides – molecules in food and food byproducts – that can be used by the life sciences sector in supplements and new drugs. It says it can find these peptides 10 times faster and 500 times more accurately than traditional methods.
The deal was a significant one because it marked the first time the EIB backed an Irish biotech company. But last year was a promising one for Nuritas, given that the previous month it announced PeptA1de, the world’s first bioactive ingredient discovered and delivered through artificial intelligence. It has also already developed and patented health-improving ingredients that can address global challenges as broad as inflammation, diabetes, and MRSA.
Dr Khaldi herself was originally a mathematician, having obtained a degree in mathematics from the Université Aix-Marseille. She went on to receive a PhD in bioinformatics and molecular evolution from Trinity College Dublin.
Prior to establishing Nuritas, Dr Khaldi led research teams around the world and developed innovative software used by research institutions.
Having been established in 2014, Nuritas has received backing from high profile backers including Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, U2’s Bono and the Edge, Singapore-based VisVires New Protein and angel investor Ali Partovi.
The company previously raised $30 million, including €20 million in a series round led by Chicago-based Cultivian Sandbox Ventures.
But the EIB’s investment was impressive given that it had traditionally backed infrastructure projects before increasing lending to the private sector in recent years. When it announced the investment, it said it was impressed by Nuritas’ “innovative use of technology” and the number of global deals it had already achieved.
Denis O’Sullivan – Gas Networks Ireland
It was the receipt of significant funding and a key strategic investment for the State that led to Gas Networks Ireland managing director Denis O’Sullivan picking up the award for December.
First, in early December, the State-owned utility announced that the European Investment Bank had backed it to the tune of €100 million in long-term funding. The finance will be used to underpin a €205 million investment in the company’s network.
Additionally in the month, natural gas began flowing through a new €100 million pipeline between Cluden and Brighthouse Bay in Scotland. This completed the twinning of interconnectors between Ireland and Scotland, connecting this island to Britain and ultimately the European market.
GNI will also upgrade existing infrastructure in Ireland to facilitate the introduction of compressed natural gas, which can be used as a substitute for some motor fuels, and renewable gas made from agricultural waste.
Those developments are part of the State company’s overall plan to cut carbon emissions. It hopes that 20 per cent of all gas on its network will come from renewable sources by 2030.
GNI operates the network through which natural gas travels to 700,000 homes and businesses, an interconnector to Scotland that allows the fuel to be imported from the North Sea and a pipeline supplying the Isle of Man.
Natural gas supplies around one-third of Ireland’s energy needs, and is burned to generate about 50 per cent of the electricity used here.
It supplied 90 per cent of electricity in summer 2018 when the weather cut the contribution from wind and hydro generation to almost zero.
Ireland imports a little less than half the natural gas it uses. The balance comes from the Corrib field off Mayo, with a small contribution from the Kinsale field off the south coast.
A native of Cork, O’Sullivan graduated as a mechanical engineer and went to work for Grainger Sawmills near Bandon. He later held positions with SWS Energy and Bord Gáis Energy and Brookfield, before joining Gas Networks Ireland in 2014 and becoming its managing director last year.