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Life sciences industry an active player in pandemic response

Public-private collaboration was critical in the response to Covid-19

As the pandemic exits stage left, Ireland’s life sciences industry can take a bow. It played a leading role in the global response.

Take Gilead Sciences. The biopharmaceutical company has pursued and achieved breakthroughs in medicine for more than three decades. Headquartered in California, it operates in more than 35 countries.

Gilead’s Ireland operations in Cork are responsible for manufacturing, quality control, packaging and the release and distribution of the company’s products in the European Union and other international locations.

In Dublin, its development office is Gilead’s global Paediatric Centre of Excellence, focused on investigating the use of its medicines as potential treatments for children living with serious diseases.


“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Gilead focused on deploying the company’s resources and decades of expertise in virology to help patients and communities fight the disease. We were among the first companies to develop an antiviral drug to treat Covid-19 and moved quickly to enable global access,” says Reggie Kelly, vice-president of development at Gilead Sciences.

“Our operations in Ireland – including packaging and supply chain – were and continue to be essential to its rapid deployment around the world. Additionally, Gilead’s Dublin North Dock office spearheaded studies investigating the use of the medicine for the treatment of children,”

Public-private collaboration in the response to Covid-19 was critical. “Gilead and the wider industry worked closely with Government departments to expedite access to vaccines and treatments for Irish patients and others around the world. Ireland played a key role as a global hub and the process demonstrated what can be achieved when all parties work together,” he adds.

While lives are adjusting to a new normal, Covid-19 remains, he points out: “Globally, we are continuing to invest in Covid-19 research and our Irish operations will continue to play a key part in any developments.”

As a world-leading clinical research and healthcare intelligence organisation, Icon has extensive experience in vaccine clinical development for commercial businesses, governments and NGOs, having participated in more than 160 vaccine studies in the past five years.

“This experience enabled us to play a significant role in the search for vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. Icon is currently or has already conducted a total of over 130 Covid-19 related trials,” says Rose Kidd, executive vice-president at Icon.

Of particular note was its work in partnering with Pfizer and BioNTech on their investigational Covid-19 vaccine programme – the first to announce positive efficacy results from a phase-three, late-stage study of a Covid-19 vaccine and to receive emergency use authorisation in individuals 16 years of age or older from the US Food and Drug Administration.

“In support, Icon mobilised a large global team of therapeutic and operational specialists to partner on the implementation of the strategic plan and framework for the monitoring of the clinical trial,” she explains.

“We worked with 153 sites in the US, Europe, South Africa and Latin America to recruit more than 44,000 trial participants over a four-month period. This was one of the largest and most expeditious randomised clinical trials ever conducted.”

Its work helped accelerate the development of the world’s first safe and effective investigational vaccine for Covid-19.

“Our work in this area continues. In addition to working with our clients to focus on treatments of Covid-19, we are also focused on how we can take what we have learned over the pandemic to respond to future rapidly-spreading epidemic diseases,” says Kidd.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times