Elements of the smart economy – Life sciences



The “Smart Economy” is seen by many as an essential ingredient in the strategy to pull national economies out of recession. This is certainly the case in Ireland. Indeed, across Europe there is a determination to create “the most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.”

An earlier article in this series looked at nanobiotechnology. This article examines life sciences and their future role in sustaining existing jobs, creating new ones and finding new treatments for some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.

Ireland has several world leading academic institutions in which ground breaking research into the causes and treatment of disease is carried on. Not only do these institutions collaborate extensively with each other and with overseas institutions but they also work closely with commercial partners.

A recent example is the investment announced on 12 October 2010 by Covidien in medical technologies research and development projects with NUI Galway, during the next two years. The €900k investment is the first phase of a total €1.8 million previously announced multi-part investment with Irish academic institutions.

Covidien is a leading global healthcare products company that creates innovative medical solutions for better patient outcomes. It manufactures, distributes and services a diverse range of industry-leading product lines in three segments: Medical Devices, Pharmaceuticals and Medical Supplies. These are sold in over 140 countries and in 2009 generated revenue of $10.3 billion.

Covidien’s investment recognises what the company describes as Ireland’s “legacy of innovative [medical devices which] is of critical importance to the country’s economic recovery.”

University College Dublin (UCD) has joined forces with NUI Galway to create Systems Biology Ireland (SBI). Systems biology is described as “a powerful new way to use the strength of computers and mathematics to understand biology [which] seeks to unravel the complexities of cells through the use of models that predict biological behaviours.”

The research being undertaken at Systems Biology Ireland is expected to produce quicker and better treatments of a range of medical conditions, including various cancers.

UCD also hosts the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research which recently received funding from the European Union’s “7th Framework Programme for Research” to enable it to investigate possible treatments for difficult-to-treat types of breast cancer. SBI also received funding from the same programme to support work on childhood cancers.

In July 2010 Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Cork (UCC) were among several institutions included in new research funding announcements. TCD’s share, €75 million, was earmarked for biomedical science whilst 2 allocations for UCC totalling €52 million are to be used for “advancing medicine through discovery” and “translating bio-sciences into health”.

TCD has been responsible for improving understanding of a number of diseases, including cancer, eczema, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Both UCC and TCD are members of a “solid state pharmaceutical cluster” which also includes UCD, NUI Galway and the University of Limerick. This has the declared aim ofmatching the wealth of chemical, engineering and other academic knowledge with practical production know-how from industry to solve the problem of getting drugs into the right form.”

The cluster also has the active participation of a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Janssen, Schering Plough, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharpe and Dohme, Roche, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Clarochem and Hovione.

Ireland’s life sciences industry includes pharmaceuticals which supports 23,000 jobs and accounts for 48% of all the country’s exports. As this article has attempted to show, Ireland has been successfully attracting world-leading researchers to its shores and fosters a great deal of collaboration between the academic and commercial sectors.


Solid State Pharmaceutical Cluster, Science Foundation Ireland website. Accessed 10-5-10

EU awards €18 million for cancer research at UCD, UCD Press Release, 17 June 2010.

Anne-Marie Walsh, Irish Independent, 16 July 2010

irishdev.com, 16 July 2010

Covidien Announces R&D Investment with NUI Galway, NUI Galway Press Release, 12 October 2010