A Dublin-headquartered global provider of drug development solutions and services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries, ICON started out with 11 employees in 1990. It is now a global organisation with 13,100 staff in 77 offices in 38 countries. Turnover of $2.6 billion is expected this year.
Approximately 800 employees are based in Leopardstown, south Co Dublin, with a further 150 in the Limerick office. The organisation provides a full range of clinical, consulting and commercial services, from trial design to full study execution and clinical to post-market commercialisation. It has just launched a partnership with Intel for the collection of de-identified clinical data from wearable devices, which will be used to monitor blood pressure; sleep patterns and movement.
Having this month had its new Boston office officially opened by Michael Ring, the Rural and Community Development Minister, the organisation’s chief financial officer, Brendan Brennan, points to the global leader in clinical research as a true indigenous Irish success story in a global healthcare industry.
Minister Ring commended ICON as a shining example of an Irish company making a difference to the lives of patients worldwide.
The organisation’s founders, Dr John Climax and Dr Ronan Lambe who previously worked for the late Prof Austin Darragh, remain on the board as non-executive members.
The business expanded exponentially as large pharmaceutical companies that had developed clinical processes without infrastructure on the ground in eastern and western Europe sought partners, said Brennan, who joined the business 12 years ago.
“The explosion in biotechnology companies in the 1990s saw firms keen to stay lean, seeking relationships with organisations that could build infrastructure for them,” he said. The economic downturn provided a further boost, with many pharmaceutical companies deciding to outsource more of their business.
“Our growth has been facilitated through innovation and digitisation of the industry, with ICON pioneering in the field of adoption of artificial intelligence, Quantum computing, and wearables,” Brennan said.
“ICON makes an impact on people’s lives every day through facilitating development and approval of 18 of the top 20 best-selling drugs in the world,” he said.
“In addition, our cutting-edge development in the treatment of oncology continues the pace at which we help to bring novel drugs to the market.”
In recognition of its accomplishments in driving efficiency in drug development, ICON has won a number of key industry awards. They include: the Scrip best clinical research organisation (CRO) award for 2017; best vaccines CRO; PharmaTimes best partnership in clinical research; and PharmaTimes clinical researcher of the year.
The cost of drug development – circa $1.5 billion per drug – is a growing challenge for the organisation. “We are helping to drive transformation in how clinical trials are conducted, generate costs savings and help get drugs to market faster to improve quality of life and save lives,” Brennan said.
Last November, ICON contributed to a complex pan-European traumatic brain injury research study involving over 4,500 patients in 65 sites in 20 European countries. It provided site management and source data verification services to the study, which was supported by the EU.
The industry continues to be in expansion mode, with annual growth rates of six to eight per cent, Brennan said. “We are continuing to see huge amounts of funding for the biotechnology sector. That, combined with the significant growth in the Asia Pacific markets, as well as the explosion in immuno-oncology is fuelling development.”
This is leading to an ongoing requirement for talent. “We are a people business and are always looking for good candidates. The options for Irish science graduates are very good,” said Brennan.