Ireland a world leader on cancer therapies, but behind on access

Ireland is a world leader in making and producing cancer therapies, so why do Irish patients have to wait so long to access innovative medicines?

It is a striking paradox of the Irish pharma success story: our top-class manufacturing plants make and produce innovative medicines for use in healthcare settings across the world, but Irish patients wait longer than most Europeans to access the latest approved therapies. This is particularly pointed when it comes to patients in Ireland trying to access cancer medicines.

The production of modern cancer medicines, as well as decisions on their reimbursement, may be complex. But, the simple reality is that every week, trucks loaded with in-demand cancer therapies bypass our patients on their way to the port.

This contradiction came to mind as I reflected on the decision to begin producing cancer medicines at our Carlow site five years ago. It has, by any measure, become a stand-out success story in the global pharmaceutical industry – in contrast with Ireland’s record on access to medicines.

MSD Carlow opened in 2008 as the company’s first vaccines facility outside of the United States. That may not mean much to people in other lines of business but it’s a big deal in the pharma world – helping set Ireland apart as a leader in the sector.

More than 30,000 people are employed in the pharma sector in Ireland
More than 30,000 people are employed in the pharma sector in Ireland

Such is MSD’s confidence in the skills and experience that drive our operations in Ireland, that it has continued to ask our sites in Ireland to do more to support our critical operations. This has translated into significant growth and expansion, with more than 2,500 employees currently working across our five sites in Cork, Dublin, Tipperary and Carlow.

Last year it was announced that a new 13,000 sq m facility will be constructed on a site adjacent to the existing Carlow plant with the addition of 170 jobs to its current 400 staff to expand production of vaccines and biologics, as well as warehouse and laboratory capacity. New manufacturing capacity is needed by 2023 to meet global demand for cancer treatment and vaccines.

I focus on MSD as it’s the company I know best. But we are not the only company playing a strong role in Ireland’s thriving pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, as well as delivering high-end jobs and playing a positive, active and supporting role in the communities where we operate.