With a combined experience of over five decades in the pharmaceutical industry including senior executive roles at companies such as Merck and Janssen, Karim Smaira and Kamel Ghammachi have come a long way with Genpharm, the Dubai-based market access company they founded in 2012. After years of learning the ins and outs of the industry, the pair decided to leverage their expertise through Genpharm, which today provides fast-track market access to rare disease and specialty pharmaceutical companies looking to expand into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Tired of the lack of dynamism at their formal employers, Smaira and Ghammachi’s initial idea was pretty straightforward: search for potential partners that do not necessarily possess the resources or know-how to expand into the MENA region, one of the most challenging and diverse regions in the global market. Smaira and Ghammachi have formed a well-balanced synergetic duo since the beginning. Smaira acts as CEO, overseeing the day-to-day operations and execution, while Ghammachi serves as chairman, in charge of the long-term strategy.
After years of grinding and having to prove themselves over and over with partners, the pair led Genpharm to a path of profitability a couple of years ago. “During our first four years as an organisation, we were building a brand and a reliable reputation. Over the past three years, we have seen that most of our new partners have come through referrals. That is very encouraging because it means that we are doing something that our partners appreciate,” recalls Smaira.
Today, they are focused on taking the company to the next level, a project they call Genpharm 2.0. With over 40 employees, they have built a strong footprint in complex areas including neuromuscular disease, genetic diseases, metabolic diseases, ophthalmological rare disease. “While it is still in its early stages, we are proud to be the first company to bring gene therapy into the Middle East,” says Ghammachi, adding that the company has embarked on a European adventure, establishing Genpharm Ireland to acquire and in-license products within Europe.
Perhaps Genpharm’s success can be attributed to its two founders’ similar views on entrepreneurship. For Smaira, “any entrepreneur should be ready to work for no income for the first few years. The primary focus should be to build a solid foundation and make sure that the business model is scalable and can sustain shocks.”
For Ghammachi, passion and dynamism go hand in hand with Smaira’s pragmatic views: “You have to have passion and believe in what you are doing in order to succeed. An important lesson we have learned is the importance of being nimble and dynamic, not over-analysing everything to the point of paralysis; small companies cannot afford to be paralysed.”