South east a region of excellence to work, research and study in pharma sector

Pictured at the 2017 Pharma Industry Awards are Niall O'Reilly, PMBRC (far right) and Claire Lennon Pharmaceutical Science course leader (far left)

Pictured at the 2017 Pharma Industry Awards are Niall O'Reilly, PMBRC (far right) and Claire Lennon Pharmaceutical Science course leader (far left)

The Life Sciences sector is one of the sectors with the greatest potential to make a positive impact on job creation in the region in the years ahead

Where there’s one pharmaceutical company, you’ll often find another, and the south east region has attracted a cluster of pharma and medical device companies over the last decades.

However, what’s more unusual is to find awards for excellence clustering in one area and at the 2017 Pharma Industry Awards the south east made its mark.

Five pharma industry awards

After Dublin, Waterford brought home the second highest number of awards (five of 24). Two of the awards went to Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). These were the Education and Training award for the Pharmaceutical Science honours degree and the Research & Development award for the PMBRC (Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre). The remaining three went to two companies based in Waterford city - Sanofi was awarded the title of both Best Biotech Company and the overall Best Pharma Company and EirGen received the award for Best Pharma SME company.

Following the awards Dr Niall O’Reilly, PMBRC Manager, who first came to work in Waterford for Genzyme (now Sanofi) a decade ago before moving to PMBRC commented that “it is very clear that the south east is a region of excellence to work, study and research in the pharma sector.”

Dr O’Reilly knows the quality of the companies in the sector well; he works with many of them.

The PMBRC, an Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Centre, has built up a research capability in the pharmaceutical sciences and works with companies across Ireland in the pharma, medical device, food, agri-product, analytical and engineering sectors. The majority of projects are with pharma and medical device companies, many of which are based in the south east region including EirGen, Sanofi, Teva, MSD, FastForm Research, Bausch & Lomb and Pinewood Healthcare.

A region with vast expertise

According to Frank O’Regan, Chairman of the South East Action Plan for Jobs (SEAPJ) there is now a vibrant and growing Life Sciences cluster in the South East, comprising of over 30 multinational companies employing approximately 8,500 people.

He has said that the South East “has vast expertise in the pharma/medtech space and these awards are evidence of the region’s capability in education and research; and its outstanding companies, both indigenous and multi-nationals. Indeed, the Life Sciences sector has been identified by the SEAPJ as one of the sectors with the greatest potential to make a positive impact on job creation in the region in the years ahead."

Skilled graduates

A key component of every successful industry is a pool of skilled graduates, and Head of the Department of Science, at WIT Dr Orla O’Donovan explains the part WIT has to play.

“We continuously engage with the pharmaceutical companies in the South East and nationally to ensure that our programmes are industry relevant and the graduates are work-ready,” she says.

A sub group of an industry board established by WIT’s School of Science and Computing is dedicated to the Pharma and Medical Devices Sector. Currently Sanofi, Teva, Bausch & Lomb, Waters Technologies, MSD, Eurofins, West Pharmaceutical Services and GSK are board members alongside WIT academics.

Industry board collaboration

“The Board meets twice a year to discuss issues such as skills required by industry, work placement, student projects, guest lectures, student awards and other collaborative initiatives that support the development of students to suit the jobs market for the sector,” explains Assistant Head of the Department of Science, Eleanor Kent.

The Board also provides a forum for discussion with state bodies such as IBEC, Waterford Chamber and the South East Regional Skills Manager.

This type of involvement with regional and national pharma/biopharma industries ensures that graduates from the lab science programmes are industry ready and relevant. This is evident across many of the companies.

“One example is EirGen Pharma – an OPKO Company where 52% of their employees were trained in WIT and presently 17% of their staff are undertaking Continued Professional Development (CPD) at WIT. Senior staff from this company are on the PMBRC, WIT steering Committee and a dozen Research and Development projects have been delivered collaboratively with the company,” Dr O’Donovan adds.

Developing students to suit the sector

WIT has courses at undergraduate level that prepares the next generation of workers. And indeed, many of the engineering roles in the pharma and medical devices sector are filled by graduates of WIT’s School of Engineering.

Many of the pharmaceutical industries in the South East region and nationally are moving into the Biopharmaceutical Science area and in response to this WIT has collaborated with the relevant industries to develop the new BSc in Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science which runs from September 2018, adds Dr O’Donovan. “The BSc in Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science will provide graduates with the relevant expertise in the biological and analytical sciences in preparation for careers in biopharmaceutical, biomedical and/or food related industries.”

Many industries are now developing ‘graduate programmes’ and some WIT programme modules have been included in graduate programmes such as the EirGen Pharma (an OPKO Company) graduate programme.

Dr O’Donovan adds that “The award-winning BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science is a very popular programme as there is great employment opportunities within the South East region and wider afield. It contains a work placement element which is very beneficial to students in that they can work in industry in the third year of their programme and gain a range of skills relevant to working in the highly regulated pharmaceutical sector.”

This year’s student placement is across 17 companies in the south east region including TEVA, MSD, Sanofi Genzyme; Waters, EirGen Pharma – an OPKO Company, Eurofins and Bausch & Lomb.

Upskilling for employees

However, it’s not just school leavers who are interested in training. There is postgrad, part-time, springboard and tailored training.

The Good Manufacturing Practice and Technology Higher Certificate and BSc degree are niche Science programmes relevant to all aspects of pharmaceutical manufacturing and compliance.

Participants are full-time employees in local pharmaceutical/medical device companies and it is recognised by the pharma/healthcare sector as a key programme in their Learning and Development strategies.

“The cluster of pharma organisations in the region makes the sector an attractive employer and all graduates continue to work in the sector, by promotion, re-deployment within or outside of their own organisation or equivalent employer,” O’Donovan adds.

Springboard to a science career

There are also Springboard options which are invaluable to present employees in pharma/biopharma sector wishing to upskill.

In 2017 WIT ran three programmes related to the pharma industry: the Certificate in Pharmaceutical Technology and Certificate in Supervisory Practice at Level 6, and the Certificate in Advanced Analytical Techniques at Level 9. New for 2018 are the Diploma in Supervisory Practice and Certificate in Biomedical Engineering.

The MSc in Analytical Science is a part-time programme where industry employees undertake either individual modules for upskilling or the suite of modules leading to the Masters degree. These modules have been developed with industry to ensure they are relevant to their employees and provide advanced upskilling opportunities.

Additionally in 2016, 400 people across the south east applied for a place on the Process Technician programme, designed to meet needs of the medical technology industry in the South East.

The Irish Medtech Association, the Ibec group which represents the medtech sector, Skillnets, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), INTREO and IDA collaborated on the upskilling initiative.

Manager of the Irish Medtech Association Skillnet Pauline O'Flanagan said: "Ireland is the second largest employer of medtech professionals in Europe and has created more than 2,000 jobs in the past couple of years. With the sector showing continued strong growth, there's never been a better time to start a career in medtech which employs 29,000 people in Ireland across 450 businesses."

Neil Quinlan is head of the Department of Lifelong Learning. He explains that WIT also works with industry training bodies (such as Skillnets) and state developmental agency initiatives (such as Springboard+) to provide upskilling opportunities in response to specific needs of the local and regional economy.

“WIT offers over 80 part-time flexible higher education courses on an ongoing basis providing accessible upskilling opportunities for employees across a broad range of areas including ‘ladders of opportunity’ to build toward professional qualifications in Good Manufacturing Practice, Computing, Manufacturing Engineering and Business,” he says.

Igniting interest at an early age

Meeting the future needs of a burgeoning pharma industry needs planning and in May 2018, Calmast, WIT’s STEM outreach hub ran the first STEM Forum.

WIT has been the leader in promoting STEM through its outreach centre Calmast which runs events for over 20,000 participants each year across the South East. In order to transform the South East region into a STEM region, Calmast brought key stakeholders together for an inaugural STEM Forum at WIT in May 2018. The purpose of the event was to capture some of the key STEM needs of the region and to learn how WIT can play an even more active co-ordinating role for STEM activities in the future. 

Calmast runs a busy schedule of activities such as science festivals and demonstrations throughout the year.

Other initiatives aimed at schoolchildren include:

  • The STEM ZOO established by Sanofi Genzyme and Junior Achievement award which saw students carry out STEM activities to help stimulate their interest in progressing on to STEM programmes at third level in WIT. 
  • Challenge Science, organised through Junior Achievement Award and Sanofi Genzyme, helps the South East region attract schoolchildren to science by running a day’s Science activities in WIT’s labs.
  • The Sanofi Genzyme /WIT Buddy programme is part of the junior Access Programmes run in WIT. WIT students are recruited and trained by the WIT Junior Access programme co-ordinators to carry out STEM outreach in schools.

Related Courses

Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Pharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Pharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science in  Pharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science in  Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Science (Common Entry)
Bachelor of Science in  Science (General)

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