A LETTERKENNY man is responsible for delivering life-saving medicines to patients in hospital intensive care units and emergency departments across Europe.
John McGinley is Hospital Business Unit Lead and Managing Director for Pfizer in Germany.
A former St Eunan’s College student, John (45) is the eldest son of John and Liz McGinley. He has four brothers, David, Paul (Kilkenny), Brian (Dublin) and Conal and one older sister Niamh Gallagher (Glenswilly).
Although his job is based in Berlin, Covid-19 restrictions mean that John continues to live in England with his wife Caroline, who is from Bailleborough in Cavan, and their daughters Ellen and Eimear.
This week he took time out from his busy schedule to reminisce about growing up in Letterkenny, playing GAA with St Eunan’s, soccer with Bonagee United and Lagan Harps to spending the last 18 years working in various commercial roles of increasing responsibility within the pharmaceutical industry.
“I started work in Berlin early last year but almost immediately all travel was suspended and our office closed in Germany so I’ve been working from my home here in England. I hope to be able to get back out there after the summer,” he said.
Everyone knows Pfizer for its vaccine but with revenue in excess of $50 billion a year, the Pfizer BionTech coronavirus vaccine represents only a portion of the company’s overall business.
“Pfizer is a research-based bio pharmaceutical company. Our purpose is to develop breakthrough medicines to change patients lives. We research and develop new therapies and vaccines to protect people from illnesses, to cure them or to support them in life with a serious illness,” he explained.
With over 80,000 employees globally, more than 3,000 people work for the company in Germany which had a turnover of approximately $1.5Bn in 2020.
“Six business units make up the Pfizer Biopharmaceutical organisation, Hospital, Oncology, Rare Disease, Inflammation and Immunology, Vaccines and Internal Medicine.
“I lead the Hospital Business Unit where I am responsible for medicines that patients need when they are in hospital. I started the position at the start of 2020 at the same time the Covid pandemic was becoming more serious in the country and where there was a high demand for many medicines for patients in hospitals and intensive care units and emergency departments,” he said.
A curious child growing up, aptitude tests pointed John McGinley in the direction of three career choices – journalism, science and marketing.
“I was always trying to figure stuff out and I ended up going down the scientific road. I wasn’t academic at school and a lot of my influences came through sport,” he said.
Current Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan, a physics and chemistry teacher, Fr Paddy Dunne and Charlie McGeever were important role models from his time in St Eunan’s College while the late Raymond Blake was a big influence during his playing days with St Eunan’s GAA club.
A family cousin, PJ McGinley, manager of the Tir Conaill Gaels club in London, was another positive figure as he took a young John McGinley and Adrian Mulligan under his wing one summer more than twenty five years ago.
After leaving St Eunan’s, John completed a Biological Sciences degree at the University of Ulster Coleraine before securing his Masters Degree in Biotechnology and Research and then his PhD in Biotechnology, also from Coleraine.
“The offer to go to uni came through the summer I was in London and mum asked me to give it a go for one year. She said it was the only thing she would ask me to do and once I started the academic side of things became easier.
“I didn’t start out with any great passion for science but I became more and more interested as I progressed through the eight years at college,” he said.
John started with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a company who were subsequently bought by Pfizer, working in various commercial roles. He was Pfizer’s brand director for central and Eastern Europe before becoming head of Cardiovascular across all international markets outside North America (Australia, Japan, Europe) and then commercial lead in the Hospital Business Unit, Europe.
“I met my wife while I was at university. She moved to England to start work and I followed her over. England’s been good to us,” he said.
He adds: “We knew early on that there’s likely to be a pandemic and it’s been a really amazing journey for the company to get a vaccine developed, out the door and into so many people in such a short space of time. It’s been a huge effort”.
Pfizer established the Hospital Business Unit (HBU) in 2019 to ensure vital medicines are delivered to patients, providers and customers where they are needed most.
“People were talking a lot about ventilators and the shortage of PPE at the start of Covid but, for me, medicine was the big challenge over the last 18 months.
“A lot of patients were in ICU at that time and needed medicine. That was my priority. It’s been pretty busy,” he said.
“This last year has passed by so quickly. We were kept going trying to figure out how to keep hospitals in supply – keep the supply chain going and keep everyone safe,” he added.
Like so many people, John and his family have been unable to get back to Ireland, and Donegal, over the past 18 months,” he said.
“I remain ambitious and would like to spend some time working in America but, ultimately, I would also like to get a base back home.
“I spend most of my time with my family when I am not working. I enjoy coming home to Donegal whenever I can to spend time with family, friends and getting fresh air on the beaches. “It gives me great renewal every time I get home. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to get there before the end of the summer,” he said.