CSL, Australia’s largest biopharma company, overcame the challenges of the pandemic-related decline in plasma collection and has since racked up wins such as the acquisition of Vifor, the largest in the company’s history, and the FDA approval of its gene therapy for haemophilia B. Newly appointed CEO Paul McKenzie takes the reins of a firm on a clear upward trajectory.
Despite being struck heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the collection of plasma and caused a 5 percent hit to its 2021 net profits, Australian blood products giant CSL, originally known as Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, has been on a positive upswing ever since.
I am excited, honoured and humbled for the opportunity to continue building CSL’s legacy
Paul McKenzie, Incoming CEO
Exit Paul Perreault, enter Paul McKenzie
After ten years in the role and more than 25 with the company, CEO Paul Perreault, who led CSL through a significant growth phase that included the acquisition of Novartis’ flu vaccine business in 2014 and the aggressive expansion of its US plasma collection facilities, will be stepping down to take his retirement. Perreault will hand the baton to Dr Paul McKenzie, the company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), who will take over as of March 6, 2023.
McKenzie, with more than 30 years of leadership experience in the global biotechnology industry, including stints at Biogen, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck, joined CSL in 2019 and has since been credited with optimising CSL’s operations as well as growing the CSL Seqirus, CSL Plasma, and CSL Vifor businesses.
“I am excited, honoured and humbled for the opportunity to continue building CSL’s legacy following the strong foundation established by Paul Perreault over the last decade. I look forward to continuing our momentum and engaging closely with the Board, our leadership team, 30,000 colleagues, and other stakeholders to serve patients and public health around the world,” McKenzie commented in a company release.
Perreault also saw the firm through the COVID-19 pandemic and its related challenges, mainly the decline in the collection volumes of plasma, which is critical for manufacturing CSL’s therapies.
In a PharmaBoardroom interview earlier this year, Maria Jose Sanchez Losada, General Manager, CSL Behring Iberia commented: “The pandemic has been a challenge for CSL Behring and all other plasma-derived companies due to a decrease in donations. Since many of our products rely on plasma coming from abroad, we must wait for the material and later fractionate it into different proteins, which takes time. Luckily, the situation continues to improve as more people get vaccinated.”
Ercin Kugu, General Manager Turkey & Israel, CSL Behring, agreed on the gravity of the situation: “After the COVID-19 pandemic started, plasma collection, especially in the US and the Western world, became more difficult to collect. The supply of plasma started to decrease, making costs increase, which has a big impact in a country with a lower price than the global average.”
A Major Acquisition and Gene Therapy Approval
Other big events have rocked the Australian firm recently, including its purchase of Swiss drugmaker, Vifor, bringing yet another company under the CSL umbrella that earlier this year united all of its business units under one global brand. The USD 11.7 billion deal, the biggest in CSL’s history, gives CSL access to the potential of Vifor’s kidney disease and iron deficiency products.
Another groundbreaking milestone for CSL was the recent FDA approval of its first gene therapy – a treatment for haemophilia B, Hemgenix. With a list price at USD 3.5 million, the one-time therapy, the first of its kind for the rare genetic blood clotting disorder, is the world’s most expensive treatment and potentially offers a long-term solution for patients who with existing need regular infusions.