A man in a light-blue shirt smiles at the camera in a brightly lit office.
Declan Moran. Image: Ipsen

‘Career progression in biopharma isn’t always linear’

16 Sep 2022

Ipsen’s Declan Moran talks about his pharma career of three decades and shares his advice for those who are just starting out.

Declan Moran has worked across various roles in the pharma sector for the past 30 years, building his career specifically in the area of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) development.

APIs are the part of a medicine that helps the body manage a medical condition. Moran now works as vice-president of API development at biopharmaceutical company Ipsen, which invested more than €50m in its Irish operation last year.

I am a chemist by training with specialist expertise in analytical sciences. I have spent the last decade working with Ipsen in Ireland to support the research and development of innovative treatments for patients with rare and underserved medical conditions,” Moran told SiliconRepublic.com.

He added that what first brought him to analytical science was an interest in forensics.

“Back in the 1980s, the avenues into forensic science were limited, but the National Institute for Higher Education, known today as Dublin City University (DCU), offered the opportunity to stream into forensics via a partnership with Strathclyde University in Scotland,” he said.

“During my industrial placement I was shown a glimpse into the world of clinical trial operations in the institute of clinical pharmacology within Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital – this exposure to innovation-led clinical trials sparked a deep interest in the pharmaceutical industry.”

‘The pharma sector holds so much opportunity for a new graduate or for an experienced pharma worker, or indeed someone from an entirely different sector looking to career jump’

What brought you to your current role at Ipsen?

I had spent more than 20 years working in the pharma sector and then spent four years embedded in DCU in a public-private partnership called the Centre for Bioanalytical Sciences.

I subsequently spent a period as centre manager in the National Centre for Sensor Research. During this time, I first encountered the biopharmaceutical company Ipsen, as we ran upskilling activities with Ipsen through the Irish Separations Science Cluster.

My employment at Ipsen happened serendipitously when I was asked to recommend a good analytical development manager for a vacant role – drawn by the opportunity to work with an SME biopharma delivering transformative care for niche and underserved therapeutic areas, I decided to add my own CV into the mix.

After joining the Ipsen team, I eventually became manufacturing director for commercial API in Ipsen’s Blanchardstown site and was then promoted to head of function for API development.

What were the biggest surprises you encountered on your career path?

Among the biggest surprises has been the pace of technological development over the past 30 years. It has meant that my entire career has really been a journey of lifelong learning.

The emergence of computational analytics and data mining has seen a transformation in how drug design and development is conducted, which ultimately has led to improved patient outcomes.

At Ipsen our continued focus and pace of innovation has reflected the acceleration in the market, and we are committed as a company to delivering at least one new meaningful indication or medicine each year to support patient needs.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

Singling out one individual is almost impossible as I’ve been fortunate enough to have several influential people steer me in the right direction, share invaluable advice or inspire me as my career developed over the last 30 years.

At this stage of my career, I take a lot of inspiration from my leadership mentors across the international Ipsen group, including Dr Aidan Murphy, EVP for technical operations in the UK, and Dr Howard Mayer, CSO and EVP of R&D in the US.

Learning from and collaborating with these senior leaders across our global network ensures that I stay focused on raising the standards of API development via the team here in Dublin and that we are ever equipped to meet new challenges, integrate best available technologies and innovate for better patient outcomes.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I most enjoy is the variety in my day-to-day role. No two days are the same and this means you need to be flexible and comfortable in fluid situations. I love the fact that every day at Ipsen we get an opportunity to work on compounds that have a transformative impact on patients with rare and underserved conditions.

Appreciation of that opportunity is shared among our entire team in Ireland, it’s really what makes us such a close-knit group and is testament to our achievement of ‘SME Pharma Company of the Year’ for the last four years running.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

For as long as I can remember I have always had a curious mind. I love to know how things are made and specifically how medicines work and how they trigger positive reactions in the body, so I ultimately found the right niche for my inquisitive nature.

Innovative curiosity and an entrepreneurial spirit are important qualities at Ipsen, fuelling our innovative culture and enabling our R&D team to innovate at pace and create cutting-edge treatments to meet the needs of patients with rare and life-limiting conditions.

We continue to invest and expand our R&D footprint in Ireland, and since the pandemic began in 2020 we have grown our team of expert chemists and analysts in Ireland by 10pc.

What can people expect from career progression in this industry?

Career progression in the biopharma sector can take many different pathways and it isn’t always linear. As a bench chemist/analyst it is not necessarily the case that you should or have to remain in that role.

There are so many opportunities to grow one’s career that often the only limitation is the courage to ask to be exposed to new areas of interest. The industry has so many different needs that it is totally possible to pursue more than one career path within biopharma.

Be open to opportunities, continue to challenge yourself, and leverage your full skillset dynamically to demonstrate an ability to work across multiple disciplines.

Supporting the career progression of our team of 165 skilled employees is hugely important at Ipsen. Through continued professional development and training opportunities, our team members are constantly growing and empowered to innovate for the benefit of patients.

My own upward trajectory within Ipsen has been driven both by the continuous support and encouragement of my mentors and colleagues, as well as the vast learning opportunities I’ve availed of to better myself, my expertise and build a diverse skillset.

Helping and encouraging colleagues to thrive and rise up the ranks is a really important part of our culture at Ipsen Ireland – we try to challenge ourselves individually to be better, and also collectively as a team to do better.

Indeed, one in 10 of our employees joined the team as graduates and have continued building their careers with us, and in 2022 over half of our leadership roles will be filled by our own talent internally.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in biopharma?

Always look to advance your knowledge through lifelong learning – learning shouldn’t stop with the Leaving Certificate or a third-level education.

Be open to opportunities, stay curious and be brave enough to try new challenges. Often people become complacent in certain roles or sectors, they know the ropes but aren’t necessarily reaching their full potential.

The pharma sector holds so much opportunity for a new graduate or for an experienced pharma worker looking for a change, or indeed someone from an entirely different sector looking to career jump.

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