Twenty years after its founding, Recipharm has established itself as a global life science firm with a solid base in its home country, Sweden and has become an example of a successful Nordic CDMO company. The firm is now setting out to strengthen its Swedish operations further with a new strategic investment to bioanalysis.
The Recipharm journey started more than two decades ago. In 1995 one of Pharmacia’s factories in Årsta, south of Stockholm, was shutting down as production was being moved to Italy. Lars Backsell and Thomas Eldered, both working at Pharmacia at the time, saw the potential of the site and made a management buyout. Recip, the initial name of the company, was founded with a total 140 employees and 220 million SEK turnover. Another three facilities were acquired between 1998 and 2004. In 2001 the brand name Recipharm was established for the growing contract manufacturing part of Recip’s business. With the several acquisitions that have followed, the company now has 22 manufacturing facilities across Europe and in India, making their manufacturing services their largest business stream.
Now, Recipharm is further strengthening its development services in Sweden with a new strategic investment. This fall the company will open a new GLP bioanalysis laboratory in Uppsala. 5 million SEK have been invested in a 500 square meter purpose-built facility which, when it opens in November 2016, will be the largest GLP bioanalysis laboratory in the Nordic countries.
“There are not many laboratories that are GLP compliant in Sweden, nor are there that many in the Nordic countries. This new facility will be by far the largest initiative right now. Early next year we will have the capacity to process more than 10 000 plasma samples per week, which is huge,” says Fredrik Lehmann, General Manager and Sales Director, Preclinical and Chemistry Services at Recipharm.
Job opportunities in Uppsala
The new facility also opens up new job opportunities in Uppsala’s expanding life science market. Instead of crisis and unemployment following the Pharmacia shutdown, the life science market has become the city’s largest growth market with more than 5 000 employees and a turnover of more than 20 billion SEK. Recipharm’s plan for its Uppsala laboratory is to recruit several new PhD-level chemists in the coming months and the aim is to more than double its team of 30 over the next three years. By Swedish measurements this means a big opportunity for new jobs, notes Lehmann.
Recipharm’s development team specializes in medicinal chemistry, offering synthesis and analytical preclinical development services to drug development companies progressing products through clinical trials. The operations at Recipharm’s new laboratory in Uppsala will be based on a solid foundation.
“The employees have been working in a GLP-regulated environment for many years, so the laboratory will have experienced staff from day one,” says Lehmann.
The staff at the new lab come from Recipharm’s recently acquired subsidiary OnTarget Chemistry, a CRO company from Uppsala. OnTarget Chemistry, specialized in medicinal chemistry offering synthesis and analytical services and has been part of Recipharm since mid-2015. With the acquisition Recipharm adds preclinical competence and capabilities to its business, improving the possibilities of participating in customer projects at an earlier stage.
A fast growing CRO
OnTarget Chemistry is an example of how an existing workforce utilized their expertise, following a big pharma shutdown in Uppsala, to scope out the market and find new possibilities. The CRO company was originally established in 2008 by Fredrik Lehmann, along with his friend and his colleague Ulf Bremberg and Professor Ingvar Brandt. As a spin-out from the medicinal chemistry, combinatorial chemistry and preclinical analysis departments of Pharmacia (Biovitrum) in Uppsala, Lehmann and Ulf Bremberg were working at Pharmacia at the time. It was shutting down all small molecular research, Fredrik and Ulf were talking to the other staff member about future possibilities and they decided, despite some contrary advice, to start a preclinical CRO business. The company set out on what would be a successful journey, going from two employees to thirty-five in a few years. In 2014 the company had a turnover of almost SEK 29 million as a result of its synthesis and analysis services. The fruitful years have been made possible by the company’s employees, says Fredrik, who has been operating as CEO of the firm for the past seven years.
“It has been all about the personnel for OnTarget. The company is very research technology and innovation driven and the majority of the staff members have PhDs and long industrial experience.”
Becoming a part of Recipharm last year was game changing, says Lehmann.
“Building a company up to twenty employees is not that difficult. You still manage to have control. But once you take it to a higher amount it becomes a massive challenge that you don’t grasp until you are in the middle of it. OnTarget was up to 35 staff members. The company was doing great, but it wasn’t sustainable structure if we were going to develop further. We either had to shrink it down or we needed a strong partner to help us grow. The company had some offers but Recipharm was the one that was the best cultural fit with our own. They have the tenacity, entrepreneurship and focus on quality that we really appreciate and relate to. Overall, my colleagues have all been positive about the acquisition. There was a fear in the beginning that we would go to a big pharma way of working. But that has not happened and we all see the benefit of being a part of Recipharm. Some people asked me if it felt like giving up your baby, your life achievement. But for me it has been entirely positive. Joining Recipharm has supplied us with the right competencies and the right people.”
A long term vision
Recipharm has seen steady growth during recent years and has made several large acquisitions both this year and last year. Besides OnTarget Chemistry, Recipharm also signed deals with Pharmanest, RedHill BioPharma, Nitin LifeSciences and Alcon during 2015. And, it was announced this spring that Recipharm had strengthened its global presence substantially with the purchase of Kemwell’s contract development and manufacturing business with operations in Sweden, the US and India. While other large companies have downsized their operations in Sweden, Recipharm has continued to develop, building a worldwide business with a strong base here in Sweden, a strategy that has been praised by the industry. In 2015 for example the company was the winner of the SwedenBIO Award for its efforts for Swedish life science.
The key behind Recipharm’s success can be hugely attributed to its staff, Lehmann believes, as well as the management vision.
“It’s all about the people. Getting the right competencies and creating a company culture. In the end it is the vision, energy and tenacity of Thomas Eldered that has made the Recipharm journey possible.”