10 interesting Irish life sciences start-ups to watch

2 May 2019

Image: © robotcity/Stock.adobe.com

As well as being a global biopharma hub, Ireland boasts a compelling and innovative life sciences sector.

Ireland’s prowess as a global biopharma and life sciences hub is a story in itself, and the future is bright when you consider the country is evolving to be an early mover in the area of cell and gene therapies.

In 2015 the biopharma sector recorded €39bn worth of exports, and it contributes more than €1bn in corporation tax to the Irish exchequer annually. There are now more than 120 biopharma operations in the country, out of which 40 are approved by the FDA to produce goods for the pivotal US market. Roughly 30,000 people are employed in highly paid roles by the industry in Ireland.

What is less well known is the prowess of the Irish indigenous life sciences scene, with players ranging from firms creating small-molecule drugs to breakthrough technologies and minimally invasive treatments as well as advances in genetics research, AI and new food technologies.

Here are some of the indigenous players to watch.

ATXA Therapeutics

close-up of man with black hair in white shirt, red tie and dark suit, with out-of-focus office background.

Dr Ivan Coulter, CEO of ATXA Therapeutics. Image: Nick Bradshaw

Dublin-based ATXA Therapeutics is developing small-molecule drugs to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in order to improve treatment options for PAH patients. A spin-out from University College Dublin founded in 2015, ATXA is led by CEO Dr Ivan Coulter. Last year, the company raised €2.5m in the form of a Horizon 2020 grant.

AuriGen Medical

From left: AuriGen Medical founders, Tony O’Halloran, chief technology officer, and John Thompson, chief executive officer, at their office in NUI Galway.

From left: AuriGen Medical CTO Tony O’Halloran and CEO John Thompson at their office in NUI Galway. Image: Aengus McMahon

AuriGen Medical says it is developing the first entirely trans-septal implant to treat the risk of both stroke and arrhythmia associated with persistent atrial fibrillation. Founded in 2016 by Tony O’Halloran and Dr John Thompson, AuriGen last year raised €2.5m in funding support from Horizon 2020 after ranking number one out of 1,280 applications from all sectors across Europe.


Two women and a man hold a medical device.

From left: Helen Ryan, Atlantic Bridge; Bernard Collins, CroíValve; and Dr Lucy O’Keeffe, CroíValve. Image: CroíValve

Dublin-based CroíValve, a spin-out from the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, has developed a minimally invasive treatment for tricuspid regurgitation. The device is delivered through the heart’s blood vessels and seals the gap between the native valve leaflets, therefore restoring the heart’s function and preventing regurgitation. Founded by Lucy O’Keefe, Martin Quinn, Paul Heneghan and Bruce Murphy, the company recently raised €3.2m in a funding round involving a record number of angel investors.


Man in grey sports jacket standing in front of glass building.

Peter Keeling, CEO, Diaceutics. Image: Diaceutics

Dundalk-based Diaceutics is a diagnostics and data company that works with 20 of the 30 largest global pharmaceutical companies. The core focus is to ensure patients get access to potentially life-saving therapies. Diaceutics’ technology helps cancer patients get biomarker testing and therefore potentially gain access to the right drug for their specific condition. Founded in 2005, Diaceutics is led by CEO Peter Keeling. In March the company raised £17m in a successful IPO on the London Stock Exchange’s junior market, AIM.


Woman in white blouse holds up a medtech capsule watched by two men.

From left: Chiara Di Carlo, programme manager; Donal Devery, founder; and Daragh Sharkey, managing director, EnteraSense. Image: Xposure

Galway-based EnteraSense is developing ingestible biosensor capsules that detect bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract without requiring complicated intervention, thus reducing healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes. The company recently secured €3.5m in funding through Horizon 2020 and private investment. NDRC-backed EnteraSense is led by serial entrepreneur Donal Devery, who, along with EnteraSense director Daragh Sharkey and programme manager Chiara Di Carlo, has licensed the groundbreaking technology from Harvard University.

Genomics Medicine Ireland

three men in dark suits and a woman in a dark dress stand outside government buildings in Dublin.

From left: Paul Saunders, ISIF; Anne Jones, GMI; An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD; and Rob Brainin, WuXi NextCode. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennells

Genomics Medicine Ireland is creating a scientific platform to examine the human genome in order to better understand the role of genetics in disease and rare conditions, leading to new prevention strategies and treatments. The company was founded in Ireland in 2015 by a group of leading life sciences entrepreneurs, investors and researchers. In November 2018, Siliconrepublic.com reported that the company was creating 600 new jobs as part of a $400m investment involving the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) as well as international investors WuXi NextCode, Arch Venture Partners, Polaris Partners, Temasek, Yunfeng Capital and Sequoia Capital.

Kite Medical

Paul Frehill, Sarah Loughney and Joan Fitzpatrick of Kite Medical standing at the top of stairs smiling and holding a branded laptop.

From left: Paul Frehill, Sarah Loughney and Joan FitzPatrick. Image: Kite Medical

Galway-based Kite Medical has created a stress-free test for kidney reflux. A spin-out of the NUI Galway BioInnovate programme, the company is led by CSO Sarah Loughney, CEO Joan FitzPatrick and CTO Paul Frehill. In April 2018, the company secured major funding worth €1.5m comprising a mix of private investment and Enterprise Ireland high-potential start-up funding.

Loci Orthopaedics

Pictured are Loci Orthopaedics founders Gerry Clarke, CTO, and Dr Brendan Boland, CEO, at their office in NUI Galway. Image: Aengus McMahon

From left: Loci Orthopaedics founders Gerry Clarke (CTO) and Dr Brendan Boland (CEO) at their office in NUI Galway. Image: Aengus McMahon

Loci Orthopaedics has developed a clinically proven solution to address the unmet need for thumb-base joint arthritis. Co-founded by Brendan Boland and Gerry Clarke, Loci Orthopaedics last year raised €2.75m in funding to bring its solution to market.

Metabolomic Diagnostics

A woman and two men in a science lab wearing white coats.

From left: Frank Walsh, AIB Seed Capital Fund; Kate Hyland, Metabolomic Diagnostics; and Charles Garvey, Metabolomic Diagnostics. Image: Michael MacSweeney/Provision

Metabolomic Diagnostics is developing innovative screening tests that can assess someone’s risk of developing complications when they are pregnant. It has created PrePsia, a simple test that can predict pre-term pre-eclampsia. Led by CEO Charles Garvey, the company’s investors include Enterprise Equity, AIB Seed Capital Fund and the EU’s Horizon 2020.


woman with dark hair dark and a dress and a man in dark suit with grey hair and green tie hold up papers.

Dr Nora Khaldi with EIB vice-president Andrew McDowell. Image: Kieran Harnett

Founded in 2014 by mathematician and bioinformatician Dr Nora Khaldi in Dublin, Nuritas uses AI and genomics to predict and provide access to beneficial bioactive peptides within food. The company is a major funding success story, having raised €53.9m so far over five rounds, according to Crunchbase. The largest round, worth €30m, was led by the European Investment Bank in November 2018. Other investors include Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, U2’s Bono and The Edge, and NDRC.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years