Revealing the role of FDI in Ireland's world-class scientific research
The high quality of Irish research has seen 300 companies commit €120 million to co-fund projects
Medical scientist conducting research of blood samples for hematologic diseases
While the importance of FDI companies to the Irish economy is well understood, their contribution to the world-class scientific research which takes place in this country is less well known. The statistics are truly impressive, as Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) director general Prof Mark Ferguson explains.
“Last year, SFI was involved in 1,603 collaborations with industry,” he points out. “929 of them were with multinational companies. In total, 329 companies were involved. This indicates that multinational companies are typically engaged in more than one collaboration.”
The majority of these collaborative research projects are with SFI-funded research centres. There are 17 of these research centres based in third-level institutions around the country, with five of them having been established in the past year.
“The research centres have collaboration agreements with 300 companies,” says Ferguson. “These companies have committed €120 million to co-fund research projects. This is an indication of the very high quality of Irish research. These companies don’t co-fund research unless it’s relevant, excellent and they can’t do it better elsewhere in the world.”
The Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, headquartered at the University of Limerick, is an example of one of these research centres. “This centre is engaged in research into pharmaceutical process innovation and advanced manufacturing. They look at how you can make crystals grow to the right size more quickly and areas like co-crystallisation, where two active ingredients are involved. This is next-generation drug manufacturing. The centre has 24 key industry partners – including many of the top names in the global pharmaceutical industry, with nine universities and institutes of technology around the country also collaborating.”
Another centre he mentions is Amber, the advanced materials and biotechnology research centre based at Trinity College Dublin. The centre involves 10 academic and more than 200 industry partners. Projects there range from lateral-flow diagnostics to methods to separate graphene, the toughest material known to science.
The Insight data analytics centre has just signed a new €4 million research agreement with Samsung, Ferguson adds. “This is focused on artificial intelligence. In the early days of the internet, search was the predominant use. Now it’s much more about recommender systems, which suggest songs, movies and so on that individual users might be interested in. There is a lot of artificial intelligence involved in those systems and this collaboration will look at that aspect of them.”
Thirty-one per cent of SFI-funded basic research awards have been cited in US patent filings. That’s a very impressive outcome and is another indicator of the excellence of Irish research
Another interesting partnership supported by SFI sees pharmaceutical firm Shire working with the Irish Haemophilia Society to develop iPath, a personalised approach to the treatment of the condition.
“Haemophilia affects one in 3,000 people, mainly males, and treatments are currently one-size-fits-all but it is clear that the disease varies on a genetic basis. This partnership is an excellent example of a win, win, win. The company gets a better product, the patient community gets better therapies, and science gets a better understanding of haemophilia.”
SFI-funded basic research, the kind that pushes back the boundaries of scientific knowledge with no particular focus on a commercial outcome, is also being utilised by global companies. “Thirty-one per cent of SFI-funded basic research awards have been cited in US patent filings. That’s a very impressive outcome and is another indicator of the excellence of Irish research.”
Indeed, Ireland is now 10th in the world for academic paper citations. In addition, Ireland is among Europe’s top performers when it comes to the number of people moving from academia into industry, according to Eurostat. “Twenty-seven per cent of researchers here move to industry as their first destination when they qualify,” says Ferguson. “And 32 per cent of post-docs go there. That’s around 60 per cent of researchers moving to industry within six years of getting their primary degree. That’s a very strong performance and one of the best in Europe.”
The benefits of this relationship between the research base and FDI companies are shared widely, according to Ferguson. “The companies get access to highly talented researchers,” he points out. “That’s a win for the companies involved. The collaborations lead to researchers moving into very good jobs in industry and that’s a win for them. From a science perspective, we are developing a very strong research ecosystem based on these close collaborations between industry and academia.
“The economic benefit is also very important,” he continues. “Not only does the research lead to the creation of jobs and additional spending in the economy, it is also very widely spread across the country, with centres in all the universities and institutes of technology from across the country involved as well. The regional spread is really good. Look at Beacon, the new SFI research centre focused on the bioeconomy. That is involved in projects in all sorts of far-flung places around the country. The industry partners will go where the science is, and it’s not all in Dublin. It is very widely spread around the country."
Case study one: next-generation video
Huawei Technologies announced a new R&D collaboration with the TCD-led Adapt Centre for Digital Content Technology in December 2017. The collaboration is aimed at advancing media technologies that will transform how people consume video content. The new partnership brings Huawei’s R&D investment in Ireland to €17.7 million ($21 million).
“We are delighted to be joining forces with Huawei to bring the future of video to reality,” says Adapt director Prof Vincent Wade. “The promise of this collaboration has escalated our own ambitions in video content and not only showcases the work of academics at Trinity College Dublin’s ADAPT Centre but also reinforces Ireland’s position as the digital hub for Europe. This collaboration is a prime example of the hugely exciting activity taking place between Irish academia and industry.”
Huawei director of industry engagement Derek Collins adds: “Working with the ADAPT Centre gives Huawei access to leading state-of-the-art collaboration that focuses on developing next-generation digital technologies that transform how people communicate. We believe that both Huawei’s and Adapt’s philosophy is aligned, in that we want to be the world-leading hub of scientific expertise that supports collaborative innovation to unlock the potential of digital content, empower engagement between people and promote creativity.”
Case study two: moving on from search
The Insight Centre for Data Analytics at University College Dublin has just launched a collaborative €4 million artificial intelligence research project with Samsung Electronics. Insight is a joint initiative between researchers at UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, DCU, and other partner institutions and is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and a wide range of industry partners.
The project will leverage Insight’s deep data science and AI expertise to enable Samsung create smarter products and more personalised experiences tailored for its customers and users and will result in the establishment of 12 new research posts at UCD.
“Until now, we have been living in what can be termed the era of ‘search’, but this is now changing due to converging technologies,” says Baekjun Lim, vice-president and head of the Data Intelligence Lab at Samsung Electronics. “Today, people are searching less, with recommendation features filling the gap. Given this environment, we are extremely excited about the opportunity to work with world-class experts in the field of recommendation systems at UCD, and we expect to see impactful results from this collaboration.”
Case study three: a healthy start
The APC Microbiome Institute, a world-leading SFI Research Centre comprised of researchers and clinicians from University College Cork, Teagasc, and Cork Institute of Technology, has entered into a new multi-year research partnership with DuPont Nutrition & Health to focus on maternal and infant microbiomes, which play a critical role in infant development and long-term health. The goal is to develop solutions to help establish a healthy microbiome in early life, to facilitate the long-term health of the individual.
“DuPont and the APC Microbiome Institute in Cork will together represent a perfect partnership in pursuit of fresh ideas and in translating microbiome science for human welfare,” says Prof Fergus Shanahan, director of the APC and clinical gastroenterologist at Cork University Hospital, “and we want to ensure rigorous science is behind future products developed by this collaboration.”
“Microbiome science is developing extremely fast, with tremendous opportunity for innovation. As one of the pioneers in the field of the microbiome, the APC has significant breadth and depth in microbiome science capability, including an impressive track record in the areas of mother-infant and gut-brain axis. This made them an ideal partner for DuPont Nutrition & Health’s new venture” said DuPont Nutrition & Health global technology and innovation leader, Angela Naef.
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