Next decade will move us closer to beating incurable diseases

The biopharma industry is close to a new dawn in treatment of cancers, says top pharmacist

21st April, 2017
Darragh has experience in both hospital and community pharmacy and has operated his own pharmacy in Galway for the last 17 years.

What's your name?

Darragh O’Loughlin

What’s your company and describe your role?

I’m secretary general of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU). We are the professional representative and leadership body for community pharmacy in Ireland, with 2,200 members working in almost 1,800 pharmacies all across the country. The IPU is a democratic member-led organisation; as secretary general, I have responsibility for implementation of the policies set by the elected leadership and the committees and for overall management of the organisation.

How long have you held the position?

I’ve been Secretary General for four years, but I’ve been involved in the IPU in one way or another for several years beforehand.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

No two days are the same. It’s this variety that makes the job interesting. I could devote one day to supporting individual IPU members with their own specific issues, whether contractual, regulatory or professional, while another day could be spent at committee meetings working to find solutions to issues affecting pharmacists around the country and to develop policies to support the pharmacy profession. Developing ideas for pharmacists to solve real problems in the health service or improve patient and public health outcomes is a key part of what we do. We regularly put forward proposals to the Minister for Health or the HSE to improve or expand health services for patients and the public. With the chronic shortage of GPs in Ireland – a situation which is not likely to improve any time soon - it’s clear that we need to make better use of the skills and expertise of other health professions such as pharmacists, as has been done in so many other countries, in areas such as supporting better use of medicines, treatment of minor ailments, provision of contraception services, monitoring and adjustment of warfarin etc.

What is your professional background?

I’m a pharmacist. I had owned and run my own pharmacies for almost 15 years before I was offered this role, and still have a pharmacy in Tuam, Co Galway.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

I love to go to the gym early before work, before the motivation wears off, and, like any father, my weekends are spent chasing around after my daughters, feeding them and ferrying them around from one activity to another. Although I grumble about it, I’m very glad of the opportunity to spend time with the kids: if not exactly with them, at least I’m near them.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

Although my skills are very rusty now, for a short time in the 1990s I was a sailing instructor with the Glénans Irish Sailing Club in Baltimore.

You are speaking at iQuest’s 2017 Biopharma Summit. What are you speaking about?

I’m chairing the event, so my aim is to make sure that the attendees come away with genuine insight into the issues and trends affecting the BioPharma sector and how the sector intends to respond.

What challenges do you see for the biopharma industry?

Worldwide and not just in Ireland, the biopharma sector and health systems are struggling with the question of how to balance the need to provide equitable access to innovative life-saving therapies and fairly reward research and innovation while, at the same time, ensuring cost certainty in health budgets. I don’t think there is any one solution, but hopefully we’ll get a bit closer to figuring it out at the Summit.

Where do you see the industry in 10 years’ time?

This is a very exciting time in biopharma. The next decade or so will move us ever closer to curing currently incurable diseases. The industry is close to harnessing the body’s immune system to target tumour cells, which could open a new dawn in treatment of cancers. In addition, developments in cellular therapy hold out the prospect of one day delivering cures for diseases such as diabetes and, perhaps, finding a way to stop Alzheimer’s Disease. These treatments would be transformative for health. I’d love to see as much as possible of the research, development and production happen in Ireland, which would offer fascinating career options for our upcoming young scientists and engineers as well as providing a welcome boost to our economy.

Darragh O’Loughlin, Secretary General, Irish Pharmacy Union will be speaking at the Biopharma Outlook Summit on May 9 at the AVIVA Stadium in Dublin. For more information on the summit visit

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