Be bold, innovative and invest in research and development is Vassilios Katsos’ guiding philosophy as the Greece-born pharmaceutical entrepreneur looks forward with optimism to renewed worldwide growth following a major breakthrough into the United States market.
Pharmathen Global operates in more than 85 countries and already makes up almost 1% of total exports from its president and chief executive’s Mediterranean homeland.
Now, having received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certification for its factory in Sapes in northeast Greece, it has been given the green light to launch its own-brand products in a country that accounts for 40% – the largest share – of the world’s drug market. “With our facilities being approved in the US, it gives us the ability to further enhance our operation,” Katsos said.
In particular, Katsos has “high aspirations” for long-acting injectable technology, “where we have unique to unlimited monopoly in the global market.” The innovation, which can be applied to a range of products, aims to improve patients’ quality of life by decreasing the number of injections required through a progressive release of drugs into the body. And Pharmathen has “invested dozens of billions in bringing this technology to completion.”
“We have many more products to file,” Katsos revealed. “We have already filed two products with the FDA and there are another six products scheduled for filing within 2018 and we have many more plans to roll out for the US market.”
After refined petroleum products, Greek medicaments (including pharmaceuticals) are the country’s second largest export. According to recent figures from the Union of Pharmaceutical Companies, the sector underpins, directly or indirectly, 86,000 jobs.
The industry already contributes 3.5% of the country’s GDP. What’s more, having grown 10% in the last three years, despite the lingering financial problems that stifle the Greek economy, it is estimated that, by 2021, it could help create another 25,000 jobs. “For every 1% that our exports increase in Greece, that contributes an increase of 4% to our GDP,” said Katsos. “So the internationalisation of our operations, where pharmaceuticals is a key pillar, proves the gravity of the sector for Greece.”
Katsos and his sister, Nellis Katsou, took charge of Pharmathen following the death of their father, Nikos, in 1993. The company, initially established in Athens in 1969, subsequently expanded from 35 people with a 30,000 euro turnover to more than 1,000 employees with sales worth 160 million euros by 2017.
However, in November, BC Partners, its parent company since 2015, sold Pharmathen’s commercial operations in Greece to a consortium led by Pericles and Petros Vassilopoulos and the local management team. The split was designed to allow the existing operation to concentrate 100% on exports.
Katsos, who is also an investor in the Pharmathen Hellas Greek spin-off, now heads up Pharmathen’s global business and insists that his homeland will remain “a strong pillar” in its operations despite being based in Amsterdam. “Pharmathen is an international company and we have a strong Greek DNA within our organisation,” he said. “Over the next years, five years, we have released an investment plan in excess of 60 million euro in our facilities, both in Athens, as well as in the northern part of Greece, in expanding and enhancing our facilities. What we’re saying is we are an international company with its heart beating in Greece.”
Pharmathen made its name creating generic pharmaceuticals and Katsos believes that selling a controlling stake to London-based investment company BC Partners was a necessary step in providing the further investment required to add more branded products to its range.
“If we all take a step back and remember what was 2015 for Greece, it was a hell year with all the wrong things happening, with political volatility, with capital controls,” he recalled. “For the next three years, we have released in excess of 120 million euros, investments in research and development of new therapeutic platforms and new products to be developed in our labs.”
Katsos, whose company invests more in R&D than any other in Greece, admits it is understandable why many firms in southern Europe responded to the financial crisis by first trimming that area of spending. He also attests that finding finance during such times can be challenging. However, he stated: “I believe that what we’re seeing today is companies doing exceptionally well in all of the South, companies that have somehow invested in R&D and have creativity and differentiation of their products or services.”
Katsos predicts more volatility in world markets but has positive advice for fellow entrepreneurs. “That will create opportunities,” he added. “That will require new forces, new alliances to be created. “So keep on dreaming, keep on executing, move forward. Be bold.”