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Accenture’s Barry Heavey discusses how the life sciences industry has changed and the most in-demand roles and skills right now.

At the end of last year, data from pharma recruiter Cpl Life Sciences and data analytics company Vacancysoft revealed that there was record recruitment in Ireland’s life sciences sector in 2021.

This year has already seen expansion across a number of pharma, biotech and medtech companies in Ireland, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Janssen and Merck.

So for those looking to work in the sector, what are the most in-demand roles right now and what skills do they need to be successful in the industry?

Barry Heavey is the managing director of life sciences at Accenture in Ireland. He told SiliconRepublic.com that he is seeing a lot of demand for skills in digital technology right now.

“What we look for is people who can combine skills in digital technologies with an understanding of the actual problems and complexities that companies face in developing and supplying ever more complex products to ever-more focused patient populations,” he said.

“Across the wider industry in Ireland, I see a very large demand for people who are interested in working in manufacturing, quality, supply chain management, regulatory affairs, data analytics and process development.”

While some graduates with a science degree might not see a role in manufacturing or quality as an exciting long-term option compared to R&D, Heavey said it’s important not to discount these career paths.

“Most biopharma companies need their manufacturing and quality teams to orient themselves more towards development and research, so these roles will hold exciting development opportunities while giving new graduates a great first step on the career ladder where they can learn all about the challenges of producing highly complex products to save lives.”

While there are a wide range of technical skills that will be needed in life sciences such as mRNA synthesis and formulation, conjugation chemistry, multivariate analysis, and artificial intelligence, Heavey said “multi-disciplinarity is key”.

“We need manufacturing and quality people who can collaborate with R&D and regulatory affairs people and vice versa. We need people who combine scientific, engineering, IT and business skills as well as the wider skills of communication, storytelling, project management, etc.”

Heavey also said that the industry is moving so fast now that the old siloed ways of working are no longer viable. Even though deep expertise in specific areas is required, collaboration is vital.

“Digital tools can be a key enabler of better collaboration, and innovation like advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence can also help in surfacing insights and enabling better decision-making using technology and curating and sharing knowledge over time and between teams.”

Biggest trends in the industry

For those working in the sector, one of the biggest trends is around new ‘modalities’ – new modes of treatment such as conjugated proteins, mRNA and cell therapy.

“We had the explosion of the new modality of recombinant proteins over the past 20 years, but this modality is represented by some of the best-selling drugs in the world like Keytruda, Humira, etc. and Ireland is central to the supply of these products due to proactive targeting of investment by the IDA and training capabilities from organisations such as NIBRT,” said Heavey.

He added that while Ireland was able to capitalise on the growth of the recombinant protein modality the country needs to ensure “we catch the next waves of the next generation of modalities”.

“We are seeing progress in this with Pfizer making their mRNA vaccine for Covid in their Dublin facility, but we need to continue to watch for new opportunities and invest in training our workforce to be ready for these.”

Another big trend is the increased pace of innovation. The timeframe of 10-15 years to approve a newly discovered drug has been drastically compressed in recent years. Most recently, the world saw several Covid-19 vaccines approved in under one year.

Heavey said this increased pace is partly due to the new modalities but also due to the better collection and use of data.

“With the pace of innovation in digital and medical technology, we now have the data collection and analysis tools needed to understand disease in more depth, to develop and even design new drugs faster, to decide what patients might be most likely to benefit from a treatment and to determine whether the drug is effective and safe in patients with much higher fidelity,” he said.

For those entering the industry, Heavey advised them to “think about the white space between disciplines”.

“If you are strong in digital technologies, think about upskilling in areas like biotechnology or medical device technology, so you can speak the language of people who need your IT skills.  If you are strong in R&D, think about how you can collaborate more effectively with people in manufacturing who will be trying to put new modalities on the shelves.

“If you are strong in quality control, think about what is coming next from R&D (new modalities or new analytical methods) and how you can prepare for these and expedite their introduction through enhanced collaboration,” he said.

“Bottom line is never stop learning! It is such an exciting industry to be in and I, for one, feel privileged to be involved in it.”

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Meta takes down ‘influence operations’ run by China and Russia | Meta

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Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has said it has removed a pair of “influence operations” run by China and Russia, which aimed to sway views on the US elections and the war in Ukraine.

The Russian network, the largest the company has disrupted since the war began, targeted audiences across Europe and the UK, and incorporated a “sprawling network” of websites impersonating news websites including the Guardian, according to Meta.

“It presented an unusual combination of sophistication and brute force,” said Meta’s Ben Nimmo and David Agranovich in a blogpost announcing the takedowns. “The spoofed websites and the use of many languages demanded both technical and linguistic investment. The amplification on social media, on the other hand, relied primarily on crude ads and fake accounts.

“Together, these two approaches worked as an attempted smash-and-grab against the information environment, rather than a serious effort to occupy it long term.”

The Russian actors primarily targeted Germany, but also made an impact in France, Italy, Ukraine and the UK, and began operating in May this year. A network of fake websites, including clones of the Guardian, Der Spiegel and Bild, posted original articles criticising Ukraine, Ukrainian refugees and sanctions on Russia. Those articles were then promoted across a vast array of internet services, from Facebook and Instagram, through Twitter, Change.org “and even LiveJournal”, the largely-defunct blogging site.

The fake Guardian website promoted by the group contained a story, supposedly written by Jonathan Freedland, headlined “False Staging in Bucha Revealed”, which purported to reveal that “a bloody provocation with dozens of civilian bodies was prepared by the Ukrainian military to accuse Russia of mass murder” in Bucha. Other than the story itself, the website was a perfect copy of the Guardian’s, right down to up-to-date “most viewed” links and a request to grant permission for cookies.

China’s operation in the US targeted people on both sides of the political spectrum: one wing posted memes attacking Joe Biden and the US left, while another did the same but hit out at the Republican party. Another, posting in Chinese, criticised the US over geopolitical issues, while a fourth targeted residents of the Czech Republic with anti-government memes.

But the operation was largely a flop. “Only the Czech-focused cluster saw some engagement, specifically a few hundred signatures on its petitions on domestic petition websites,” Meta’s report says.

That may, in part, be down to the apparently strong labour rights of the Chinese actors: “These accounts largely stuck to a shift pattern that coincided with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work schedule during working hours in China – 12 hours ahead of Florida and six hours ahead of Prague,” the report says. “They appear to have had a substantial lunch break, and a much lower level of posting during weekends. This meant that the operation was mostly posting when Americans were sleeping.”

Both influence operations were taken down as violations of Meta’s “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” rule, defined as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal, in which fake accounts are central to the operation”. The company has faced criticism in the past for applying a circular definition of such behaviour to justify takedowns, allowing campaigns run by western lobbyists to operate promote messages using fake groups by arguing that they aren’t using fake accounts to do so – because the accounts haven’t been banned for coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

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Hurricane Ian pushes NASA’s Artemis launch into October • The Register

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NASA’s Moon-ward Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will not be blasting off from Earth until late October at the earliest, after the vehicle was rolled back to its hangar to shelter from an incoming hurricane.

Tropical storm Ian is projected to hit Florida, where the SLS lives, over the next few days. Officials began transporting the rocket back to its Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Monday at 2321 ET (0321 UTC, Tuesday) as a precautionary measure. Unfortunately, the move means NASA cannot launch the rocket from the Kennedy Space Center for the next few weeks. 

It’s hoped the SLS rocket will be used in NASA’s Artemis mission to, some time this decade, put the first American woman and another man on the Moon. For now, prior to that return to our natural satellite, the US space agency wants to test the SLS: it’s expected to carry an empty Orion crew capsule up into the Moon’s orbit. The podule will then return to Earth. In future, there’ll be astronauts in the pod.

The hurricane marks another set back to conduct this first-ever flight demonstration of the multi-billion-dollar SLS heavy launch vehicle – NASA’s most powerful rocket to date – that was at one point slated to fly on August 29.

Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said there was a slim chance the SLS may launch in late October, and November may be more likely. “We’re not writing it off, but it will be difficult,” he said during a media teleconference briefing on Tuesday.

When weather conditions improve, experts will assess any damage to infrastructure at the center before personnel are safely allowed back on site. Engineers then have to perform checks on the heavy launch vehicle; hardware components may need to be replaced, such as the flight’s batteries before it can be rolled back out on the launchpad. 

Hurricane Ian isn’t the only bad omen NASA has been forced to deal with. Janet Petro, the space center’s director, said a fire had erupted in the VAB. “I’ll also note that approximately at 1145 today, a fire was reported in the Vehicle Assembly Building, employees were evacuated and there were no reported injuries. The VAB is now fire safe, personnel are back inside working and the Artemis vehicle was never at risk,” she said during the briefing. An investigation to uncover the cause of the blaze is underway.

All previous attempts to launch the SLS have been scrubbed due to hydrogen fuel leakage. A team of NASA engineers performed a cryogenic demonstration test to confirm whether repairs made to address leaks were successful or not on September 21.

“The launch director has confirmed all objectives have been met for the cryogenic demonstration test, and teams are now proceeding with critical safety activities and preparations for draining the rocket’s tanks,” NASA previously said in a statement. “After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.” ®

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Here’s what workers and students can expect to get

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The cost-of-living crisis loomed large in Budget 2023, with a host of temporary supports announced for businesses, households and students.

The Irish Government has today (27 September) announced a number of measures designed to protect workers and those in higher education as part of the 2023 Budget.

Among the measures being promised are a package of supports for families, households and businesses to help them cover energy bills amid the ongoing inflation crisis. There will also be a cost-of-living package introduced for students, as well as investment plans for education over the coming months.

Remote working and rural development are being invested in too, as part of the Government’s Our Rural Future and National Development plans. There will be a total of €390m allocated to rural and community development, building on projects for remote and hybrid regional workers such as Connected Hubs.

To complement its investment in rural development, the Government is putting aside €218m to progress the roll-out of the high-speed broadband network next year under the National Broadband Plan.

The State is promising that fibre broadband will be made available to an additional 80,000-85,000 premises in 2023. This is designed to help businesses and workers who rely on technology as part of their working lives.

Those working from home can expect a little help covering their energy bills, as the Budget is to provide a €600 electricity credit to ease the cost of energy bills this winter.

All Irish households regardless of whether their occupants work from home or not, will receive this credit. It will be delivered in instalments, with €200 due before Christmas and the remainder due in two separate batches early next year.

In order to protect jobs and dampen the effects of the energy crisis on businesses, the Government is providing up to €10,000 per business per month until spring 2023. This is part of its plan to help employers meet rising energy costs. The temporary scheme will support eligible companies, covering 40pc of the increase in their energy bills.

Criticism

However, critics have said the measures will not be enough to protect jobs. Damien McCarthy, CEO of Kerry’s HR Buddy said that the measures will only save “a small number of businesses” and a “small number of jobs”.

“The number one aim in a cost-of-living crisis should be to protect how people earn their living. For this reason, businesses needed more from this budget in order to survive and protect their workers’ jobs through this crisis. A support that only covers 40pc of an overwhelming problem is not going to save jobs. Employers will still be left with 60pc of the problem and that is only the energy costs problem. Businesses have many other rising costs outside of energy,” he said, adding that the temporary measures would “prolong the pain a while longer, but that’s about it”.

“The fact that the lower VAT rate is not being maintained beyond February is also going to be a huge blow and again put people’s jobs at risk,” McCarthy said.

Higher education supports

For those in higher education, the Budget will attempt to alleviate the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis with a range of temporary grants and supports packages. There will be a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee for higher education students eligible for the free fees initiative.

There will also be a once-off reduction of up to 33pc in the contribution fee for apprentices, as well as a once-off extra payment for all student maintenance grant recipients. Postgraduate students who qualify for SUSI grants will receive a once-off payment of €1,000, meaning their grant will increase from €3,500 to €4,500.

There will be a further €8m investment in the Student Assistance Fund for the 2022-2023 academic year and more once-off funding for the third-level sector to assist with rising energy costs.

The Government is investing in apprenticeships and skills training programmes in Budget 2023, also. It will provide funding for 4,800 additional apprenticeship places and 4,000 registrations. The State will provide more than 11,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities for those sectors most impacted by Brexit and more than 2,000 Skillnet places in sectors such as sustainable finance, green-tech and climate.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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