Tommy Söderman, General Manager, Nordics, Ipsen
After working at Ipsen for seven years, of which you have spent four as the head of the Nordics, what would you say have been the company’s main milestones in the Nordic region in recent years?
In 2006, the decision was taken at the corporate level to move the headquarters of the Nordic region from Denmark to Sweden. The major driver behind this was the fact that Sweden accounts for 45%-50% of all the business that Ipsen does in the Nordic region.
Since moving to Sweden in August 2006, we have grown from an office of four people to around 40 today, and from a turnover of €4.5 million in 2006 to €25 million in 2013. This is thanks to impressive growth in the sale of our established product lines, given that we have not expanded the portfolio in this time. Ipsen has clearly grown along with the region in these years, which has experienced around 14% growth.
Were Dyspsort, Decapeptyl and Somatuline, Ipsen’s three biggest products, the growth drivers?
Yes, Somatuline, Dysport and Decapeptylhave been the biggest drivers of growth. In the beginning NutropinAq also played a significant role, but in recent years it has been replaced by Decapeptyl.
What is special about these products and why are they so well accepted in these markets?
Somatuline is prescribed for patients suffering from acromegaly, as well as certain types of tumours, such as neuroendocrine tumours, which are found in the intestine and are very slow growing. It works with somatostatin analogues, which are IGF1 inhibitors, which fuel cell growth. The product is a drug of choice in these types of tumours for symptom control. Clarinet, a trial whose results are soon to be published, will hopefully provide additional proof of Somatuline’s anti-tumour-growth properties.
It is challenging for pharmaceutical companies to grow these days, due partially to global health care expenditures being reigned in, but Ipsen has been an exception. After this period of growth, what are your expectations for 2013?
Ipsen in the Nordic region has been growing at a rate of approximately 20% in volume and 13% in value in recent years. Even though the region is better off than the south of Europe, it has still been tough for the pharmaceutical industry, especially in terms of pricing for products that have been around for a number of years. The systems currently in place to minimize costs add significant challenges to our business here.
In Denmark we have free pricing: you can put a product on the market and get a high price, but then AMROS steps in and you then need to submit your national tender with AMROS. The official price in Denmark is pretty high, but the net effective price is not as high; I would say it is close to the European average.
Some of the Nordic CEOs we interviewed said that despite the attraction of emerging markets, there is still certain appeal to the Nordics, revolving around the fact that governments here still value innovation. Do you share this view?
In Sweden, today at least, the current government and the government that could soon take over place a high value on innovation. The common understanding in most of the Nordic region is that they should try to cut prices on older products in order to accept higher prices for new, innovative products that add value to patient care. However, we will have to wait until after the prices on older products have been lowered before we see whether they accept higher prices for the new products.
As well as valuing innovation, Nordic governments also support the creation of innovation centres in the region. However, these are long-term investments and therefore it is not as easy to convince companies to build innovation centres as it is to bring their portfolios to the marketplace.
2011 was a key turning point for Ipsen, when the company began to implement new strategies in order to further the growth of the company. What impact has this had on the operations in the Nordics?
At Ipsen we have a new strategy of investing in growth, which is great for us to be part of, since many other companies are doing the opposite and divesting in order to save their bottom lines. The strategy for Ipsen is to continue growing and then increase the company’s geographical footprint in emerging markets, such as China, Russia, Brazil and also the US, where Ipsen has traditionally had small investments.
Ipsen has been very focused on growing in specific therapeutic areas. Do you think this has paid off?
It’s hard to see the results of this strategy currently, given the focus on the plan to invest and increase the company’s geographical footprint. Ipsen is a small company compared to the big players; if we invest 20% of our turnover in research it is still a large amount, but it is incomparable to 16% of ten times the turnover, which is what Big Pharma is capable of.
It is critical to focus the company’s resources correctly. If we tell the world that we’re in these three areas: endocrinology, neuromuscular disorder, and neuro-oncology, we at least give a signal that this is where we would like to collaborate, this is where we find opportunities, and perhaps can find synergies in licensing; that is a strength for Ipsen.
To what extent does Ipsen place a priority on a patient-centric approach?
Globally, Ipsen does research and innovates in order to benefit patients. Our existence as a company depends upon those patients. At a local level, we implement many patient support programs where a patient can get extra assistance for compliance issues i.e. training videos, and training groups to help out with the right treatment. I think that is a clear differentiator versus other companies and the patients recognize this.
Today we see the industry focusing on a more holistic approach; now companies need to be creative in getting their products to market and convincing governments of their added value. What is the holistic approach that Ipsen has taken?
Ipsen understands that it needs to benefit the patients and create value for them. We don’t only add value through the drug itself; rather we try to find services around the drug to create more holistic value. For example, we work with stroke patients that suffer from spasticity by giving them injections of Dysport to ease the condition. However, dealing with spasticity requires a lot of training and exercise, so we form support groups, create material, and identify special nurses for them to call.
Does Ipsen do anything other than commercial activities in the Nordic region?
The company runs a lot of clinical trials in the region. In the Nordics we have many of our own initiatives; for example, we are running clinical trials on rehab patients recovering from strokes at 30 sites in the Nordic region: almost 300 patients are currently planned to be enrolled. We also see clinical trials as a positive way to collaborate with health care professionals.
Looking to the future, are there any expectations to launch any new products in 2013?
Unfortunately not. Ipsen had a little bit of a setback, having focused on haematology for a long time, but eventually deciding to sell OBI-1 to Baxter. In the best of dreams we could have kept OBI-1, but building a franchise for a very small orphan drug is probably not the right way to go, so in the end it was a smart move to let it go. The company is now looking forward to launching Tasquinimod, which is a product for castration-resistant prostate cancer. We hope to launch this product around 2016.
In terms of human resources, do you find it hard to attract and retain Ipsen employees?
Actually, we have a lot of people from larger companies that are attracted to Ipsen, at least in the Nordic region. Generally, their reason for coming to us is that we offer a streamlined work process with less bureaucracy. Smaller operations are more flexible, more agile, and let all individuals participate.
Before joining Ipsen you worked for big pharma companies yourself: Sanofi and Abbott. Do you feel as though you made a good choice? What has been the most pleasant part in working for a company like Ipsen?
I started at Sanofi in 1998; I became the sales manager and we hired everybody, going from a small office to a pretty big one, which was a very fun, entrepreneurial type of journey. We have done more or less the same in the Nordics for Ipsen. The beauty of working for a smaller company where all the functions are not there, and everything is not carved in stone, is that it enables us to have a bigger space to manoeuvre. We can create ideas and implement them, which I personally think is more exciting.
What would you like to be your final message for our readers about Ipsen and about the Nordic region?
Ipsen is a fantastic company with a lot of talented people, some very good products, and hopefully new products in the future. The baseline characteristic for Ipsen, globally and locally, is that it is very nice atmosphere to work in. There is a friendly yet problem-solving attitude in the company, with a completely no-blame culture. And I am sure we will make all in our power to continue to deliver value to health professionals and innovative drugs for patients in need.
And personally, what keeps you motivated and happy?
I’m a bit of an entrepreneurial person and what keeps me motivated is doing new things and launching new products. Of course, sometimes there are downsides, like the disappointment of selling the haemophilia business. But, nevertheless, I am really motivated being in a company where I’m not just following something in a square, but where we can be innovative, give ownership and responsibility.