With a feel-good factor sweeping French innovative pharma, the country’s iconic mid-cap biopharma standard-bearers are once more on the rise. These medium-sized national champions form part of G5 Santé, a club of companies altogether contributing some EUR 4.5 billion (USD 5 billion) worth of turnover to the home market and more than 46,000 jobs. The likes of Servier, Pierre Fabre and Ipsen have been ratcheting up a gear and launching bold new strategies to assert themselves internationally.
Servier currently finds itself in the midst of a strategic reorientation. By focusing on oncology, notably through the acquisition of Shire’s oncology arm last year, the company hopes to propel itself to further success in some of the world’s most prolific pharma markets. Group president, Olivier Laureau, notes that, “growing our oncology franchise constitutes the focal thrust in a strategy that we outlined four years ago. We are confident and hopeful that our future oncology revenues will ultimately be on par with those from cardiovascular – which still represents over 50 percent of our sales.”
He continues, “the acquisition of Shire products enabled us to enter the US market, a key milestone in our ambition to spread our global presence. With these integrations we now can lay claim to commercial operations in 149 countries around the world and are planning to quickly add Japan to that list as well.”
Servier’s status as a privately-owned entity means that it faces financial limitations compared to its publicly-traded competitors so Laureau is shrewdly banking upon specialization as the keystone of any future success. “Within each of our therapeutic areas, we have chosen to become extremely specialized on either a therapeutic mechanism or on particular pathologies so as to eke out better use of our finite resources,” he explains.
To continue this growth push, Laureau highlights the importance of finding a new asset. “The next critical step is to identify another molecule, whether in oncology or immuno-oncology. This could be a US or global license and we are looking for a product either in late stage or already on the market. It can be an item for small targeted populations and we are very open on how we bring in the product; either via acquisition, licensing, or partnership,” he conjectures.
Ipsen, in the meantime, has been undergoing its own transfiguration that commenced with the Beaufour family’s unprecedented announcement that they were opting for their first ever non-French global CEO in a desire to launch the company on a bold new growth path fit for the next generation of medical science. This entails accelerating the development of a specialty care pipeline through a focus on mid-stage assets and innovative deal structures, and pivoting the geographic footprint more towards ‘power markets’ like the US and China.
“At the very outset, we were very clear in our minds that we needed to unleash a profound and ambitious overhaul right at the heart of the company that would equip Ipsen to face the future with zeal and confidence,” recounts American born global CEO, David Meek. One of the most eye-catching elements of Ipsen’s R&D restructuring thus far has been Meek’s absolute instance on the concept of ‘open innovation’ whereby the firm is “completely agnostic as to where the innovation comes from.”
Pierre Fabre’s blueprint may be a little different, but again centres upon ambitious internationalization. “We will reach EUR three billion (USD 3.36 billion) in revenues by 2024 with 70 percent of the total generated outside France, compared to 63 percent today… Even though we are based in a small city in France [Castres], we are adamant that our future growth clearly lies abroad,” affirms global CEO, Eric Ducournau.
Audacious partnerships are very much the order of the day. “In the pharmaceutical division, we have struck a landmark deal with US biotech Array BioPharma for the development and commercialization of a combination therapy against melanoma and colorectal in Europe and other countries, excluding Japan, Canada and the US… Unlike the largest pharmaceutical companies, Pierre Fabre had honestly been slow to shift to an innovation-driven model. In order to close the gap, we have established milestone partnerships with exciting biopharma companies such as Array and Puma BioPharma,” he confirms.
So too is the company reasserting its innovation credentials. “Generally speaking, our focus is on enhanced medicalization,” says Ducournau. “Our expertise is reflected in the fact we stand proud as the only cosmetics company able to regularly publish clinical results for all our products in the most prestigious medical publications in the field… Strong R&D capabilities are a prerequisite to medicalize our product portfolio. This is the reason why we invest considerably more in R&D than our competitors with roughly five percent of revenues from our dermo-cosmetics business line being invested in R&D.”