Despite its small size, Ireland has always punched well above its weight. The coronavirus crisis has only served to underscore this assessment; we may only comprise 0.06 per cent of the world's population, yet we are the world's fifth biggest producer of Covid-related products, from ground-breaking medicines to in-demand ventilators.
As the pandemic became a reality, Irish-based medtech and life sciences companies quickly ramped up production to meet soaring global demand. Several months on, research efforts to find and produce new therapeutics and vaccines effective against the Sars-CoV-2 virus continue to be a priority and Irish facilities have not been found wanting.
Abbott is just one of the companies that has been at the heart of the international pandemic effort. According to Vernon Keaveny, senior director global commercial operations at Abbott Diagnostics Division, the company is leveraging its decades of experience tracking viruses, global leadership in diagnostic testing, expertise in science-based nutrition, as well as its innovative medical devices across diabetes and cardiovascular care to provide lasting solutions to unique health challenges, including the current pandemic.
A critical component of this has been the supply of a range of vital diagnostic tests to support the Irish response to Covid-19, including lab-based molecular PCR and serological antibody tests, as well as rapid antigen tests undertaken by healthcare professionals. To date, Abbott has launched nine tests for the virus around the world, providing more than 100 million tests in 115 countries. “We are ramping up our manufacturing capabilities to bring these tests to as many people as possible around the world,” Keaveny notes.
Ireland has played a significant role in these efforts. Abbott in Ireland is home to more than 4,000 employees across nine sites, most of which were directly involved in developing, producing and delivering the Covid-19 tests launched by the company.
Abbott is also working closely with health authorities globally on their response to the pandemic, including in Ireland, as routine health services bear the impact of the virus. “Hundreds of people with diabetes have been set up on our FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system’s remote monitoring software via virtual clinics during the pandemic, so they can manage their condition by sharing results remotely with their healthcare professional and avoid hospital visits,” explains Keaveny.
“Abbott is also providing considerably increased volumes of medical nutritional feed and enteral feeding pumps to support patients in critical care, hospital and nursing home settings. Our teams also provided frontline support and expertise to healthcare professionals implanting our cardiovascular and neuromodulation devices so elective procedures could recommence following the first wave of the pandemic.”
Abbott remains ready to react to the next curveball this new virus can hit us with. “We’re closely monitoring ongoing developments with coronavirus globally and will continue to assess and respond to needs in the days and months ahead,” Keaveny says.
Regeneron is a renowned name in biotech and it recently hit the headlines for its investigational Covid-19 treatment, given to US President Donald Trump as he was treated for the virus.
The company, which has its biologic production facility in Limerick, recently announced updates on REGN-COV2, its investigational antiviral antibody cocktail for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19. "We are continuing to ramp up production for REGN-COV2 and we now expect to have approximately 80,000 doses available by the end of November, approximately 200,000 total doses ready by the first week of January 2021, and approximately 300,000 total doses ready by the end of January 2021," says Regeneron's Jack Kissane.
“Meanwhile, we are continuing clinical trials in the US, UK and other select countries and sharing ongoing results on the trials.”
Kissane says a delicate balance has been achieved as the company works to further its Covid-19 R&D programme, while not losing focus on the other areas of unmet medical need it has been working to address since its inception.
“Across all of the Regeneron locations, we’ve been working tirelessly to keep our science moving forward while also prioritising our Covid-19 efforts,” he explains.
“In order to focus on making REGN-COV2 in our New York manufacturing facility, we shifted many of our medicines over to our Raheen facility to be produced.”
Beyond the manufacturing contribution, Regeneron global employees are contributing in other ways to the pandemic response, adds Keaveny. They recently raised $750,000 (€636,000) in 26 days for 16 local and global non-profits through Regeneron’s COVID-19 Double Matching Gift campaign.
Medtronic is another global company based in Ireland that played a pivotal role in the pandemic response. As the scale of the crisis became acutely clear, and ICUs began to fill up with critically ill patients, the global demand for ventilators was at an unprecedented high.
The medtech company, which employs more than 4,000 people across five sites in Galway, Dublin and Athlone, immediately responded by increasing production. Its Galway facility doubled capacity and introduced 24/7 operations, and efforts were made to fortify its supply chain, bring in new partners, and train new employees. Medtronic also publicly shared the design specifications for its portable, compact ventilator, helping other major manufacturers reevaluate how they operated to support the effort.
Several indigenous Irish companies are also gaining global recognition for their efforts in the fight against Covid-19. For example, Tramore-based software development company NearForm worked with the HSE to develop Ireland’s national Covid Tracker app, which uses Bluetooth technology to quickly inform a person that they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. Their technology is now being used in apps in several states in the US, including Delaware and Philadelphia.