Pictured: Niall O’Leary, Vice President and Site Head for Regeneron’s Industrial Operations & Product Supply facility in Limerick
Niall O’Leary is Vice President and Site Head for Regeneron’s Industrial Operations & Product Supply facility in Limerick. Six years ago, he returned to Ireland from 20 years in the U.S. to build Regeneron’s first manufacturing facility outside the states. Today, Niall oversees the largest and fastest-growing biotechnology operation in Ireland.
What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
I’m focused on continuing to hire, build and develop a world-class biotechnology manufacturing organization at our campus in Limerick. We are continuing to grow; earlier this year we reached a milestone of 1,000 employees and we recently announced plans to hire an additional 400 people.
The COVID pandemic accelerated our plans to license the Limerick site to make Regeneron’s full portfolio of commercial products. We’re expanding production to allow our sister site in New York State to maximise manufacturing capacity for REGN-COV2, our investigational two-antibody combination for the potential treatment and prevention of COVID-19 infection. As demand for Regeneron’s products continues to grow, we need both our site in NY and our site in Limerick to continue delivering our life-changing medicines to patients around the world. Our Limerick team is critical to Regeneron’s success.
What are your biggest challenges?
As our team grows by 40%, maintaining our unique science-driven culture is what keeps me up at night. We have created a culture that’s very difficult to replicate, and my team takes immense pride in being part of our Regeneron family. It’s important to hire people who are a good cultural fit and then to take the time to ensure they understand and live our values. We continue to see smart, passionate employees with the right mind-set to challenge the status quo find their way to Regeneron.
How do you keep your team/staff motivated?
People are motivated when they know they are contributing to a shared common vision. As one of the world’s most innovative companies, Regeneron employees know they are part of something truly special.
I make it a point to always be transparent and honest with my team. Everyone at Regeneron understands our goals – and the magnitude of any challenges we need to overcome. We don’t run from challenges, instead we turn into the storm and brave the elements, as my father used to say. Again, this goes back to having a strong culture where people are eager to take on responsibility and step-up when it matters.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
Regeneron has been at the forefront of the battle to fight COVID-19 with REGN-COV2, our investigational two-antibody combination for the potential treatment and prevention of the COVID-19 infection. While our scientists in New York worked to develop REGN-COV2, here in Ireland we were putting action plans in place to ensure our employees—many of whom are considered “essential” staff —could continue to make our life-saving medicines. Our top priority is to keep COVID-19 out of our plant and make sure those who need to work on site can do so safely.
Like so many other companies, close to half of our team members are currently working from home. We made adjustments to our ways of working to ensure our employees onsite and at home feel informed and connected to each other, to their teams and to the business. I couldn’t be prouder of my team’s resilience and determination. They haven’t missed a beat.
What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?
The biotech industry must continue to innovate and do so at an even faster pace. We need to continue to develop new 21st and dare I say, 22nd, century medicines that harness the body’s ability to heal itself.
How do you define success and what drives you personally?
I define success the way most people do – feeling a sense of accomplishment and being happy in my role. For me, it’s about doing work that is meaningful in helping people, meeting the goals I’ve set for myself, feeling challenged, developing my team and seeing my team grow along with me.
Personally, I’m driven by the fear of failure. I don’t think I’ve every truly failed because I simply won’t allow myself to give up and there is always something to be done to redeem most situations. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes, but I learn from them and rarely make the same mistake twice.
What’s the best advice you have been given or would give?
I’ve always liked the eloquence of the Beckett quote “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” but I don’t fully agree with it. A mistake isn’t a failure if you learn something from it. You need to challenge yourself, be resilient and when taking a risk, take an educated risk.
Throughout my career I’ve tended to focus on being observant rather than relying on advice. My best advice is to observe the people that you admire and mimic their behaviour. Take note of the people you don’t respect and be sure to avoid their traits.
I make it a point to always be transparent and honest with my team. Everyone at Regeneron understands our goals – and the magnitude of any challenges we need to overcome
What are some of the highlights of the business over the past year?
There are so many – obtaining the regulatory licenses to make additional products at our site in Limerick, getting new cleanroom suites up and running, managing throughout the pandemic without any interruption in production. Regeneron’s decision to create 400 new jobs in Limerick is a real vote of confidence from our leadership and a testimony to our success in growing a world-class operation.
What new trends are emerging in your industry?
The Biopharma industry is a maturing industry in Ireland. We’re home to 24 of the top 25 biopharma companies and we have a highly educated, skilled and experienced workforce. Ireland is one of the most qualified places on the planet to make biologics and I expect to see more companies bringing manufacturing here.
We will continue to see more advances in genetics with personalized medicine harnessing the body’s ability to heal and repair itself. Regeneron’s Genetics Centre is one of the world’s largest human genomic research efforts. We’ve sequenced over 1 million exomes and we are using genomic approaches to speed drug discovery and development.
What’s next for your company?
Here in Limerick, we will be managing an aggressive growth phase as we transition to making Regeneron’s full suite of commercial medicines. We will be focused on continuing to hire, develop and mentor the next generation of leaders, while maintaining our unique culture of innovation and excellence.
As an employer, are you finding any skill gaps in the market?
Our Irish universities have done a great job adapting to the needs of the biotech industry. We have developed strong partnerships with universities throughout Ireland and work hand-in-hand with them to develop the next generation of graduates. Ireland’s talented workforce is among the best in the world.
The biotech labour market is tight at the best of times and even more so in a pandemic. As one of the world’s most innovative companies, we are fortunate to have people come looking for us rather than having to aggressively work to pursue candidates. But there is always more to be done. Complacency is the enemy.