The global acquisition of GSK’s thrombosis portfolio and subsequent purchase of AstraZeneca’s anaesthesia business have been critical milestones for the maverick South African pharmaceutical outfit Aspen, enabling the company to establish a consolidated presence across Europe, including the opening of the firm’s first-ever Spanish affiliate only two and a half years ago.
At Aspen … we thrive on change and our workforce has to be ready to embrace and adapt to brand new portfolios at virtually a moment’s notice
With its unorthodox business model and dynamic corporate culture, Aspen is very much expected to introduce some colour and flair to Europe’s fifth-largest pharma market. “We are certainly not your typical industry actor. Unlike an R&D-driven drug developer, we grow inorganically through acquisition with the aim being to quickly internalize other companies’ products that have not managed to attain full potential,” explains Miriam Rodriguez, general manager for Iberia. “Moreover, we tend to focus on technically complex products in specialist areas and distinguish ourselves through our abilities to reap strong performance from post-patent molecules and to optimize product lifecycle management,” she adds,
Normally when pharma companies engage in M&A activity, the task revolves around the acquisition or meshing together of entire companies, resulting in a lengthy process of sorting out the component parts to divest or merge. Aspen, however, is fundamentally different. “We opportunistically seek out synergistic products, business lines or portfolios that we can rapidly digest and absorb, internalizing the production as quickly as possible. Our work cycle is thus considerably shorter than the majority of our competitors,” confides Rodriguez.
“This, in turn, has a big impact on the corporate culture because our staff have to be comfortable with constant change. Ordinarily, change is considered scary within an organization and human nature resists doing things differently. At Aspen, by contrast, we thrive on change and our workforce has to be ready to embrace and adapt to brand new portfolios at virtually a moment’s notice.”
Furthermore, these defining characteristics dovetail neatly upon Aspen’s amazing capacity for storytelling. “We are still a comparatively young player for a well-recognized pharma multinational – only 20 years old this year – and one of only a handful to have been initiated on the African continent which makes us pretty unique,” muses Rodriguez.
The roots of the company, of course, can be traced back to the height of the AIDS pandemic in Africa when there was barely any access to antiretrovirals. “In mature markets such as the US and Europe, HIV was already being managed to the point whereby the disease could be considered chronic, but most patient groups in undeveloped regions were locked out of this treatment paradigm. Aspen’s founders essentially created generic antiretrovirals by negotiating with large pharma companies whose patents were expiring so as to give access to those underserved patient populations,” she recalls. “This was the original impetus for setting up the company and continues to inspire us today.”