Building Biotech Businesses

Dec 15, 2005
By BioPharm International Editors

The biotech industry in Ireland has grown substantially during the past decade, and yet more growth is on the horizon. This is due in part to the groundwork laid during the past 10 years by various organizations and agencies in Ireland, and to the considerable increase in investments in Irish biotech research and development (R&D). Irish biotechnology in the near future stands to benefit from financial support available from Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Higher Education Authority, the Health Research Board, the European Union and others. Indeed, the combined potential funding from these organizations totals more than €1 billion. With these resources at its fingertips, Ireland is poised to create an extraordinary high-tech research and industrial base in the biotechnology sector.

In February 2002, Enterprise Ireland (EI) — the Irish development agency focused on accelerating the development of world-class Irish companies that are market focused and innovation driven — published its Building Biotech Businesses strategy. The strategy is now fully operational and is contributing significantly to the development of Ireland's entrepreneurial-led biotechnology industry. The strategy has a number of key elements, including applied research funding, commercialization and technology transfer, international networks, bioincubation, venture capital, and fast-track company growth.

Applied Research Funding

EI's commitment to funding and commercializing high-quality applied research has led to the establishment of a range of supports brought together under its Commercialization Fund. The fund consists of 3 elements: proof of concept, technology development, and business development. Funding is provided on a competitive basis to researchers in all institutes and colleges, for projects leading to technologies of commercial interest to existing companies in Ireland or having the potential to be the basis for new Irish business.

Commercialization and Technology Transfer

Enterprise Ireland's Biotechnology Directorate (EI Bio) focuses on technology transfer and campus-based activities. It forms a crucial link in the commercialization chain by connecting those who conduct the research, and the entrepreneurs, industrialists, and companies who apply the fruits of that research.

So that EI Bio is best placed to commercialize the results of Irish biotech research, it has located staff as close as possible to where the research happens. A number of biotech commercialization specialists and biotech project officers are embedded at selected campus technology transfer offices. EI Bio commercialization specialists are assigned to Dublin City University, Trinity College, Dublin, University College Cork, University College Dublin, National University of Ireland in Galway, University of Limerick, and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. EI Bio also continues to forge strong new relationships with other campuses involved in biotechnology.

In 2004 EI Bio added the TechMate module to its web portal at TechMate showcases the latest life sciences and food technologies that have been developed in Irish universities and research institutes and are now available for licensing, collaboration, and business development. Companies can also submit requests for the technology or expertise they require. In addition, TechMate showcases technologies from the National Institutes of Health in the US and has links to sources of European technologies. EI Bio also runs Next Wave technology showcase events to highlight the applications and commercial potential of emerging technologies. For more information about this exciting tool, visit

Paul Roben, Ph.D., is director of Enterprise Ireland's Biotechnology Directorate. In October 2005, to take this leadership position, Roben returned from San Diego. Earlier in his career, he had worked with the Scripps Research Institute specializing in antibody phage display. Roben has a broad background in the development of commercial opportunities from research activities and has successfully negotiated licensing deals and collaborations with academic and commercial entities. He led the molecular biology department at NovaDx International, Inc, and at Corvas International, Inc, he led the molecular biology section of the vascular targeting group. In addition, in 1999 he founded Target Protein Technologies, Inc.

Roben recently noted, "The environment for starting and growing innovative biotechnology companies in Ireland is excellent. Enterprise Ireland is focused on market and industry demands, and we are working proactively with the Irish biotech sector, Irish universities, and research institutes to bring emerging high-quality technologies to market."

International Networks

In association with the Irish BioIndustry Association, EI Bio is working on a project to stimulate bioindustry-relevant research at Irish universities. This program brings leading scientists and business managers from industry together with leading university researchers. The businesses involved include: Elan Corporation PLC, Wyeth, Biotrin International Ltd, Deerac Fluidics, Luxcel Biosciences, BioClin Research Laboratories, Omega Research, and Life Scientific. Meanwhile, academicians from 6 universities bring expertise in sensors, microfluidics, microelectronics, biodiagnostics, and process engineering. The project aims to solve generic biological problems faced by the Irish bioindustry. Phase 1 of the project involves investigating quantitative point-of-care test systems and in-line and at-line bioprocess monitoring.

In addition, Enterprise Ireland is tapping into the Irish Diaspora as a means of attracting entrepreneurs, as well as scientists who have developed international experience. EI was instrumental in establishing networks in the US (Biolink USA-Ireland) and in the UK (TechLink UK-Ireland), and it also supports the network for biotech professionals within Ireland (BioConnect Ireland).

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