A recent resident of Ireland, Dan Wygal, Country President of AstraZeneca Ireland, has already made a significant impact, not least because of his prominent role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
The first shipment of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Ireland in the same month as Wygal, who relocated here from the US in February 2021 to take on the role of country head for the pharma giant.
The 42-year-old American recalls both the Irish public’s rush for vaccines and discussions with the government over supply issues – all against the backdrop of a row with the EU.
“I would say it was just the focus on optimizing supply availability,” Wygal says as he discusses some of the high-profile supply challenges AstraZeneca faced in the early days of the vaccination program across Europe.
“The level of discussion around all stakeholders within government has been constant – we all felt the pressure, no matter who you were in that discussion, no matter what manufacturer you were; the intensity of driving availability was just as high for all of us.
“The rewards are pretty relatable and we’re really proud of what we’ve done,” he adds.
Although not widely used in Ireland, Wygal outlines the extent of international use of the vaccine, listing the latest statistics and estimates – 2.8 billion doses released for delivery to more than 180 countries, an estimated 50 million cases prevented, five million hospital admissions avoided , and saved over a million lives.
“To understand the impact the vaccine has had on the world – and now with the ability to reappear and live in very normal ways within society – it’s a very exciting thing to have been a part of,” says Wygal.
The pharmaceutical industry in Ireland has also played its part in helping AstraZeneca fight Covid-19, he says.
AstraZeneca is collaborating with Charles River Laboratories in Ballina, Co. Mayo for the testing and batch release of its Covid and Influenza vaccines. So could Ireland be used as a location for manufacturing AstraZeneca’s vaccine?
“It would be hard for me to speculate whether it could be made here or would be made here,” says Wygal. “Certainly the know-how that exists in Ireland in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products is extraordinarily high.”
AstraZeneca has also developed the Evusheld treatment for the prevention of Covid-19, which was recommended for EU approval last week as it has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of symptomatic Covid-19 disease and provide protection for at least six months.
Describing the treatment as “groundbreaking,” Wygal added that there is great excitement about its potential to help immunocompromised people “come out of their cocoons.”
Covid-19 aside, Wygal has joined AstraZeneca Ireland at an exciting time.
In July last year, the company acquired Alexion, another pharmaceutical company with a significant presence in Athlone and Blanchardstown, for $39 billion (€35 billion).
Months later, in September, AstraZeneca announced a proposed $360 million investment in an active pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturing facility on the Alexion Campus in College Park Dublin. Around 100 new jobs are expected to be created as part of the company’s growing involvement in Ireland and its life sciences sector.
The investment aims to reduce lead times and costs for commercialization and introduce more sustainable manufacturing processes.
AstraZeneca will have around 1,100 employees in Ireland once the facility is up and running, having had a limited presence here around two years ago.
With AstraZeneca investing $9.7 billion in its product pipeline last year, Wygal hopes the business can continue to grow in Ireland.
“Operationally, Ireland has already established a flagship position for our operations in relation to the future of the pipeline,” he says.
“I see no end to the line for the talent we find here.”
A career in pharmacy was always on Wygal’s agenda.
Wygal’s father, brother, sister, uncle, and two cousins grew up in the small town of Webster, outside of Rochester City, upstate New York, and all worked in pharmaceutical sales.
“I’ve always been interested in this industry,” he says.
“I knew it was what I wanted to do and I never doubted it, even in elementary school — I just wanted to be like dad.”
Wygal’s first experience was as a sales representative for industry giant Glaxo-SmithKline. He then moved to MedImmune, where he held various roles before AstraZeneca acquired the company in 2007 for $15.6 billion.
Wygal’s passion for the sector propelled him through the ranks.
That’s when he spotted a role he “could only dream of” – the opportunity to run AstraZeneca’s Irish business.
When he got the job, he couldn’t wait to tell his family about it, not least because of his Irish heritage.
“I think my family partied more than I did,” he laughs, admitting that there are probably more people in America who claim to be Irish than there are in Ireland.
The role of Country President means Wygal has many responsibilities ranging from sales and marketing to regulatory medical affairs, information technology, finance and administration.
Wygal moved to Dublin with his family in February 2021 as Ireland was battling through one of its worst waves of the pandemic.
After that, he was right on the front lines, with AstraZeneca’s vaccine being a crucial part of the government’s response to the crisis.
During Wygal’s time at the helm, many challenges emerged to respond to vaccine demand.
AstraZeneca had well-documented delays in the delivery of its vaccines, which led to the EU taking legal action against the company – although both sides later resolved this.
“I would say it was more about equality of access – regardless of where the vaccine would ultimately be deployed, we knew there was a greater need for vaccines globally than any one or any conglomerate of manufacturers could supply,” he says .
“By no means would I say the mission felt diminished. It was crucial to get as many vaccines as possible to market as quickly as possible and to make sure they are susceptible to them.”
Concerns also arose from reports of an extremely rare risk of people developing a blood clot after vaccination. This included AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
“It’s difficult every time you hear concerns about your product and how it can have unintended consequences for someone,” says Wygal. “We were pleased to see that the data shows that the benefits continue to far outweigh the risks.”
According to Wygal, AstraZeneca and its Irish stakeholders have acted on the data as quickly as possible in order to keep decision makers as fully informed as possible.
After working with many stakeholders, he praised the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout. “You have done an incredible job. It was intense based on the pace and of course the meaning behind it, but it was always very efficient.”
AstraZeneca’s work on the Covid vaccine has led to the company being a household name today. However, Wygal believes it must now showcase its broader pipeline – including treatments for cardiovascular, respiratory and rare diseases – for the benefit of patients in Ireland.
“We hope to have answers to a huge amount of unmet needs for Irish patients,” he says.
Ireland will play a big role in AstraZeneca’s future.
The company’s new $360 million manufacturing facility is currently in the planning stages, and they hope to break ground later this year. “It’s a nimble, highly adaptable facility that will help meet the future demands of a growing pipeline,” says Wygal. “Not only does it give us the opportunity to do more of this, it also gives us the opportunity to do some things that don’t exist yet.”
Wygal’s confidence in Ireland is underpinned by the strong reputation of its pharmaceutical sector.
Ireland exported around €62 billion worth of pharmaceutical and medical goods in 2020, with nine of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies operating here.
“The most important thing is the know-how,” says Wygal. “You have great science.”
Sustainability is also an important aspect. Wygal lifts AstraZeneca’s $1 billion Ambition Zero Carbon program
Notable for Wygal is the work that has been done to reduce high water usage at AstraZeneca’s Alexion site in Dublin.
The site uses ultrapure water.
His latest work reduced the amount of water rejected for the facility by 27 percent, saving up to 16,200m3 of water annually – the equivalent of six and a half Olympic-size swimming pools.
In addition, the cleaning cycles have been adjusted, saving around 12,500 m3 per year.
After a year, the Irish boss has a lot to be optimistic about.
In February, AstraZeneca reported record quarterly sales. Total revenue rose 63 percent year over year to $12 billion in the fourth quarter, $1 billion above consensus forecasts. The result led to AstraZeneca increasing its dividend for the first time in a decade, with a total dividend for 2021 of $2.87.
“We do a lot to be lean and invest so much in science and in our pipeline,” he says.
“This is a value that we live by.”
While he could not provide more details on Ireland’s performance, he said the company will expand its commercial team to 88 employees over the next two years as it rolls out new therapies.
Looking ahead, Wygal believes Ireland will be a “very prominent” part of AstraZeneca’s long-term strategy.
“For the organization to be so positive about our growing footprint and capabilities, it’s stimulating for us to understand what’s here and see it in action.”
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Do everything you can to anticipate and be ready for the journey.
That carried over in a number of ways throughout my own career.
It kept me focused on my own purpose with my development and helped ensure I was getting the most out of my day.
If someone started in the pharmaceutical industry tomorrow, what would you tell them?
Know the patient and their journey. It’s also important to understand how your medication can positively impact this journey, and the rest of your foundation should build on that.
Country President of AstraZeneca Ireland
Webster, near Rochester, New York State, USA
Blackrock, County Dublin
Wife and two boys aged 10 and 8. “Our Golden Retriever is also a big part of the family!”
time with family. Everything outdoors.
I hesitate to call it my favorite piece, but it is certainly very common among children, yes day It’s one for us to look at as a family.
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https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/the-pharma-expertise-in-ireland-is-extraordinarily-high-says-astrazeneca-ireland-chief-41533622.html “The pharmaceutical know-how in Ireland is extraordinarily high,” says the head of AstraZeneca Ireland