IrishCentral's sister publication Irish America magazine celebrated its annual Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Awards at a dinner event at the New York Yacht Club September 6. The event, co-hosted by Irish clinical research company ICON plc, paid tribute to the impressive range of the Irish in the medical profession and the work of the best Irish and Irish American healthcare professionals featured in the August / September 2017 issue of Irish America.

The capstone of evening was Daniel O’Day’s keynote speech, which touched on how his gratitude to his ancestors and the Irish ability to overcome adversity has drawn so many Irish and Irish Americans to the healthcare industry. O’Day, who was born in the U.S. and raised between here and Europe, is the CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals, the world’s leading provider of cancer treatments. His father’s family emigrated from County Clare in the 1850s and migrated west, working on the expansion of America’s railroads before finding work at a Montana oil refinery, where his father was born.

“The opportunities I’ve been given were hard-earned by my ancestors and I feel a responsibility to make their efforts worthwhile. I believe this feeling is common among Irish Americans and that’s why so many of us are in healthcare. In fact my Irish heritage is of great help to me in striving to make a difference in my work,” he said.

“The ability to overcome the challenges in healthcare, to innovate and make breakthroughs in progress requires a steely determination. The Irish have shown this throughout their history and I hope it will serve us in our work today,” he said. “But perseverance alone isn’t enough. We need to venture outside of new territory, to remain curious and have a pioneering mindset. Exploring new frontiers is also very much a part of the history and culture of Ireland.”

O’Day also spoke to his international upbringing and global career with Roche, which is headquartered in Switzerland, emphasizing the benefit and necessity of diversity and “its critical role in innovation,” saying, “Only when you bring different perspectives to the table can you solve the most difficult problems that we have in our society, and certainly that’s true in healthcare.”

“In Genentech alone, here in the United States, we have 41 different nationalities that are represented in the workforce. I am convinced that without that mix, we would not have made the progress we have made in the past four decades. And, by the way, the same applies in my mind to our country as a whole. The contributions of our ancestors and the many other nationalities that came here are the foundation of America’s success. Long may that diversity thrive and the inclusivity that comes with it.”

Nobel Laureate Dr. James Watson and Dan O’Day. Photo: Nuala Purcell

Nobel Laureate Dr. James Watson and Dan O’Day. Photo: Nuala Purcell

The new frontier of healthcare, O’Day said, is upon us – healthcare data and its potentially world-changing implications for personalized medicine. “I am constantly asking myself whether we are doing enough as an industry to utilize big data in its form today,” he said, noting that only four percent of patient data comes from clinical trials, leaving the remaining 96 percent of real-world data largely unavailable for researchers and analysts outside of the specific studies conducted in the observational world.

“At Roche, we are still in the very early days of using this data and the insights that come with it on our development journey from lab to patient,” O’Day said. “But to give specific examples, we’re making more informed decisions today on which scientific targets to pursue; we’re reducing the time it takes to recruit patients to clinical trials; in many cases we’re looking for ways to replace randomized clinical trials with real-world data and observational studies as those become more robust; certainly it’s informing discussions with health authorities and payers around the globe; helping healthcare systems decide which patient will be treated with a particular medicine or intervention will certainly lead to greater efficiency which we will need throughout the world in healthcare systems.”

In terms of what it means for the future of the industry, O’Day outlined two imperatives: “First, I think we need to be very open to change about our industry in healthcare. We’re a highly regulated industry; we’re in good ways connected to our past, but we have to challenge ourselves to be even more pioneering and move things even more quickly for the benefit of patients, and help all stakeholders realize the value of this. And secondly – and I believe this is even something we could do amongst our community here – I believe we need to collaborate in two ways: we will need to reach across our usual boundaries, work together across industry, academia, medical practice, and those of you working in the healthcare systems that make this happen.”

O’Day received a House of Waterford Crystal vase award from Irish America editor-in-chief Patricia Harty and publisher Niall O’Dowd. To read Patricia Harty’s August / September 2017 cover story on Daniel O’Day, click here.

Among the Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 honorees in attendance were award-winning tropical disease specialist and chair of the Health Research Council of New York State Dr. Kevin Cahill; Dr. Kevin Curran, a pediatric oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Mary D’Alton, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center; Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health and the 2017 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal; Glenn Gormley, global head of research and development for Daiichi Sankyo; Dr. John Kennedy, a groundbreaking orthopedic sports surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery; Stuart McGuigan, chief information officer for Johnson & Johnson; and Diane Sirakovsky and Michele Teter, who co-founded the unique elder care organization Alliance Homecare.

To view the complete list of honorees, click here.

Also at the event were Nobel laureate and Irish America Hall of Fame inductee Dr. James Watson, deputy consul general to New York Anna McGillicuddy, Irish America Hall of Fame inductee Loretta Brennan Glucksman (who will serve as the 2018 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal), and Hall of fame inductees Tom Moran and Ed Kenney of Mutual of America and Concern Worldwide US.

Congratulating the honorees, ICON CEO Steve Butler said, “We are a very proud company and we are here to celebrate the contributions that you all have made to improving health, innovation, and creativity not just in the U.S. but worldwide. You Irish and you Irish Americans who have displayed those Irish qualities of grit, determination, and that never-say-die attitude, you are moving forward significant advances in cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurology, surgery, all of these and many other fields and we are honored and very proud to be associated with this.”

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also provided a statement of support for the honorees:

“I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate each of the 50 Irish American leaders in the healthcare and life sciences sector. Whether you are scientists, doctors, researchers, or leaders of the pharmaceutical industry, you are driven by a most noble purpose – to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

“Your friendship to Ireland and your commitment to the transatlantic relationships and the flow of expertise across the Atlantic is hugely appreciated. I want to acknowledge in particular keynote speaker Daniel O’Day for his accomplishments as the CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals and the engagement of Roche in Ireland for many years. The life sciences is a vital and growing component of the Irish economy – I’m delighted to say that all of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies have substantial operations in Ireland.

“As Taoiseach, I am committed to maintaining the investment in education, research, and a broader ecosystem to ensure the steady pipeline of talent is available for the life sciences sector. My sincerest congratulations to all the honorees and my thanks also to Patricia and the team at Irish America magazine for ensuring that your leadership and your heritage is recognized and celebrated.”

The 2017 Irish America Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 is sponsored by Mutual of America, Northwell Health, Simpson Healthcare Executives, The Ireland Funds, House of Waterford Crystal, 1-800FLOWERS.com, the University College Dublin Smurfit Graduate Business School, Tourism Ireland, and the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland.

Patricia Harty, Steve Cutler, and Niall O'Dowd present Daniel O'Day with the 2017 House of Waterford Crystal Keynote Speaker AwardNuala Purcell