Pfizer Ireland's influence continues to grow due to manufacturing expansion and collaboration
30 years in Pfizer sees Ireland become a "go to" location for large-scale investments, says Pfizer's Paul Duffy
Paul Duffy: "At Pfizer the sharing of people is seen as a good thing"
When someone has had a career as varied as Paul Duffy’s it usually means they moved from employer to employer. But his success over three decades has come under one roof: Pfizer’s.
Duffy grew up in Balla, Co Mayo, one of six boys whose father worked for the railway and whose mother was a dressmaker. He studied science at University College Galway, followed by a PhD in organic chemistry and a masters in business.
He actually started out in 1991 with Warner Lambert. It was subsequently taken over by Pfizer whose history in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork dates back to 1969.
In fact, Pfizer was one of the first companies to respond to the Irish government’s policy of attracting foreign direct investment via IDA Ireland. Duffy remembers the migration from Warner Lambert to Pfizer, “I was immediately struck by the strong management teams and structures. It had a long history, a lot of experience and a strong safety culture.”
Moving up the ranks, he became site leader at Pfizer’s Ringaskiddy, Co Cork plant in 2002. Having stayed with the company since, he has worked across the manufacturing and management side of Pfizer’s Irish sites.
Duffy now works in global manufacturing as Pfizer global supply’s vice president of small molecule operations, responsible for small molecule manufacturing sites across the organisation. “From Ireland we distribute medicines to more than 100 countries, across 36 languages and many of Pfizer’s leading and newest medicines are manufactured for global export from Irish sites,” he says.
Manufacturing has evolved from citric acid in 1969 to today where Pfizer Ireland manufactures many of the company’s newest and most complex medicines and biologics. It’s a portfolio that includes drugs for cancer, migraine and erectile dysfunction.
“There have been monumental strides over the last few decades: HIV is now a chronic disease, but also there are vaccines that have eradicated disease,” says Duffy.
“Pfizer’s aim is to deliver the breakthroughs that change the lives of patients. R&D is at the heart of fulfilling that, as we work to translate advanced science and technologies into the therapies that matter most.”
The value of the pharmaceutical industry in reducing illness and death is enormous. “We, in Ireland, play a key role in the supply chain for many of these medicines and this is something we should all be proud of,” says Duffy.
“Pfizer’s purpose is to deliver the breakthroughs that change the lives of patients. Research and development is at the heart of fulfilling that”
Over his time with the company he has seen significant change in the pharma industry.
This includes the evolution of “large molecule manufacture to a level where we are becoming a ‘go to’ location for investments in this area.”
Part of Pfizer’s success stems from a collaborative approach that helps avoid “silos”.
"From a global manufacturing perspective, we have a supply network that is based in multiple geographies and we employ varied complex technologies to manufacture the products we supply to our patients. Colleagues in these networks meet regularly through various teams to share best practices and learn from each other. Nobody has all the best ideas and the willingness to share and learn is fundamental to how we do business. The breadth of our network also allows colleagues to travel to other geographies, learn new things and experience new cultures," he says. The sharing of people and knowledge is key to how such a large organisation succeeds in ensuring its employees all share the same sense of mission.
“In multinational companies, locations typically compete for investment so you always want to be the best. At Pfizer we try to be the best together, not individually. That’s challenging and it takes good leadership to achieve,” he says.
The network structure helps foster a sense of shared mission. “At Pfizer the sharing of people is seen as a good thing, and the sharing of talent is rewarded.”
Pfizer’s Irish sites are recognised as being technically excellent with a good regulatory and compliance history, all stemming from the competency of its people. That has enabled it to make the move from mainly large volume “blockbuster” drugs to a portfolio of large and small molecules that includes niche products for smaller populations, such as cancer drugs.
Despite the lower volumes required for these smaller populations, the drugs themselves are more complex.
For example, an older drug can take six chemistry steps to manufacture. Anywhere between four and eight steps is regarded as the norm in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Some of Pfizer’s newest drugs involve 35 manufacturing steps. The fact that some of this chemical synthesis is outsourced and some undertaken in-house only adds to the production challenge.
“With these smaller, more potent drugs, the chemistry is more complex and that requires excellent facilities and excellent people. And of course you have to be good both on the technical side and be cost-effective and reliable too. That we have such a significant amount of talent is what enables us to do all that.”
30 years on he is proud of the career opportunities Pfizer offers the next generation. “I’m focused on diversity and on ensuring a good work environment where people feel safe both physically but also in being able to voice their opinions.”
As it has for him, Pfizer offers great scope for staff “to experience many technologies, many geographies and many opportunities,” he says.
The company has come a long way from its origins here in 1969, but some things don't change. “The patient is still at the heart of what we do and will continue to be at the forefront,” says Duffy. That’s not just a corporate mission, it’s personal, he reckons.
“At Pfizer, we feel the urgency to use our scientific expertise to bring these breakthroughs to patients.”
Please visit pfizer.com/careers/en-ir/ for open roles in Pfizer Ireland