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Can Ireland become a leader in clinical research?

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Itziar Canamasas

Managing Director, Bayer Ireland and Strategy Board Member, IPHA

Collaboration with all stakeholders is needed to ensure patients don’t miss out on potentially life-saving clinical trials in Ireland.


Ireland can become a European leader when it comes to conducting clinical trials if we collaborate and focus on reducing delays and improving recruitment targets, according to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA). Research recently conducted by IPHA shows that, despite being home to nine of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Ireland is not currently as strong a location for clinical trials in comparison to similar-sized countries, such as Denmark.

The research shows that, on average, it takes about eight months to recruit the first patient into a clinical trial in Ireland. That figure is based on 90 trials set up between 2013 and 2018 across 11 therapy areas and all four phases of the clinical development process.

Clinical trials are vital for boosting innovation

This delay has potentially far-reaching consequences, most importantly for patients who are missing out on opportunities to access what could be life-saving medication and contribute toward the development of improved detection techniques and diagnosis.

Dr Itziar Canamasas, Managing Director of global life sciences company Bayer and IPHA strategy board member, explains the importance of clinical trials: “As well as the positive impact for patients, clinical trials enhance the value proposition for innovation on which Ireland needs to keep working to secure future global investment in manufacturing and discovery activity against significant competition.”

Following Denmark’s example

Looking to Denmark, a country of similar size, it had approximately three times the number of registered studies at the end of 2018 compared with Ireland. Notwithstanding these higher numbers, it currently takes six months to recruit a patient into clinical trials in Denmark compared to eight months in Ireland.

Canamasas sees no reason why Ireland can’t emulate Denmark’s success and become a more attractive location for clinical research.

Working together to realise a shared ambition

Canamasas is quick to point out that pharmaceutical companies alone can’t drive progress. Change requires commitment from a far broader cohort of stakeholders including, policy makers, hospitals, patient groups and university institutes.

To further the discussion on collaboration, Canamasas presented the IPHA survey findings at the Health Research Board – Clinical Research Coordination Ireland (HRB CRCI) conference on 13 May. Reporting on the conference feedback, she says, “There was a strong consensus that there is scope for us to further build Ireland’s credentials as a location for clinical trials and that this will require active collaboration among us all.”

As a starting point, IPHA are proposing we look to implement standardised clinical trial agreements, that are already in place in a number of other EU countries; that we protect research time for clinicians and hospital staff; and we use more realistic targets when starting clinical trials, this means meeting a lower recruitment target is better than partially meeting a higher target.

Overcoming challenges

The task in hand is considerable, but Canamasas believes Ireland has all the ingredients for success. “We have all the major international pharmaceutical innovation companies in Ireland. We also have highly regarded health professionals who are seen globally as key opinion leaders and there are positive signs that the public policy environment is shifting favorably to supporting this ambition for Ireland,” she says confidently.  

ECRIN represents huge opportunity

Her position is buoyed by Ireland’s recent decision to join the European Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (ECRIN), opening opportunities for pan-European clinical trials which has the potential to give us access to large populations of patients and collaborations across countries.

On a broader scale, there has never been a more exciting time for innovation within the pharmaceutical industry. Across the industry, new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are opening up opportunities within clinical research. Such developments could help to support the new wave of clinical trials that Canamasas hopes to see in Ireland very soon.

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