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50 Most Trustworthy Companies of the Year 2019

An Interview with Karim Smaira and Kamel Ghammachi, Genpharm Co-founders and Managing Partners: ‘At Genpharm, we are bound by a higher purpose, hence the Focus on Rare Genetic Disorders and Orphan Drugs”

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“We Commit to Patients, We Connect innovative Pharma with the Middle East Region to make treatments available and Cure patients living in the region”

Rising drug spending and increased desire for expenditure controls are consistent themes across the US, Europe, and emerging markets. With healthcare systems under increasing pressure to fund high-cost, innovative therapies, payers are looking towards new and enhanced reimbursement processes which align drug funding with patient value. For pharmaceutical companies, success will require increasing flexibility to adapt to new access scenarios brought about by changing access dynamics and geographical differences.

In light of the foregoing, we’re thrilled to present Genpharm.

The company provides fast-track market access to innovative and specialty pharmaceutical companies looking to expand into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It focuses mainly on orphan drugs, rare and genetic disease therapies and specialty products.

Operating through evidence-based medicine and high ethical standards, Genpharm provides its strategic partners with fast and sustainable market access solutions into the MENA region. The company employs highly qualified and experienced MSLs and KAMs. It also offers regulatory, medical, and logistical expertise. Armed with the knowledge of the local business culture and the vast network of trusted partners, Genpharm’s expertise allows it to create market opportunities for innovative multinational organisations.

The company’ current partners include Novartis, AveXis, Sarepta, PTC, Santhera, Ultragenyx, Sintetica, Admedus, ABiotics, and many more.

Genpharm was incorporated in 2012 and is headquartered in the Dubai Science Park (DSP), U.A.E. It has an additional office location in Boston in the heart of the Biotech hub.

Karim Smaira, CEO and Kamel Ghammachi, Chairman, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

Genpharm’s set up was a fortunate encounter between several factors. Let’s take a look. We had both worked together indirectly since 2004. Based on the chemistry that existed and the strength of the combined experience and expertise, the idea of building something together started taking shape in 2008.

The timing became appropriate by the end of 2011 when I left Merck and Kamel was thinking of exiting his previous venture.

When we did our market analysis, we identified a significant gap in the rare disease space. Access to orphan drugs in the MENA region was cumbersome. There were several challenges along the way such as the overall lack of awareness amongst he general public. The patient pathway was complex, and the diagnosis age compared to the US and Europe was significantly higher. Genetic diagnosis is not easily accessible and there were very few experts dealing with rare diseases.

At the same time, based on the heavy research that was being conducted by pharmaceutical companies with a clear focus on rare and pediatric diseases, with the number of drugs receiving orphan drug designations and accelerated pathway by the FDA and EMA, we were convinced that this will lead to a high number of newly approved therapies in this space.

The high rate of consanguinity in the Gulf region and the large family size, lead inevitably to a relatively higher prevalence and incidence of genetic disease. Moreover, we decided to focus early our efforts and resources on this geography, based on the universal healthcare coverage provided by the GCC governments to their nationals. We felt that these facts combined with the existing gap in access to treatments which was reduced by the progress in treating and managing these diseases, would be the foundation of a strong business opportunity.

There was also a significant lack of awareness amongst multinational companies, about the business potential the Middle East region presented. Although growing, the MENA pharmaceutical market represents only two percent of global pharma sales. Understandably, the region sat as a very low priority for multinationals, particularly for the typical small biotech and rare disease companies. Their resources are focused on the larger markets of US, Europe and Japan. We took it on us to educate these companies about the prevalence of these diseases, the early access opportunities that exist for their drug in the region and how Genpharm’s expertise and business model can generate early revenue for them without taking risks and deploying their own resources.

Finally, like with every entrepreneurial venture we were driven by a larger purpose. We wanted to create a unique and differentiated business while making a positive impact on the people we touch. The letters and testimonials we receive from families and patients are the biggest satisfaction we have, far more rewarding than any financial incentives.

Q. How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.

Any entrepreneur will tell you that success is never guaranteed. It takes hard work, sacrifices and luck. We invested all of our savings in Genpharm while knowing that the road to profitability can be longer than in the other industries. The high personal stakes, the numerous naysayers and doubters, the size of the risk we took kept us awake most nights for the first three years.

On the organizational side, despite having a strong personal reputation in the industry, Genpharm was a new player. You still need to build the corporate identity, the trust with all the stakeholders and attract the right talent into the start-up, while managing the operation. Trust is difficult to build and easy to lose. We got our first important partnership in 2013 when Genzyme trusted us with their innovative Multiple Sclerosis (MS) portfolio. The success of this partnership helped us tremendously in building our brand equity with regulators, physicians, and multinational companies.

Q. Is your company a ‘leader or a follower’? Do you formulate your own core values?

In a very short period of time, we have established a leadership position in the MENA region in the rare disease space. Our brand is well-recognized amongst the many local and global stakeholders. Our leadership though is on the Market Access side since we are not an R&D or a manufacturer. We take great pride nevertheless in being the first company to introduce Gene therapy to the Middle East. This means that we are at the forefront of innovation as a service provider and as a strategic partner.

Q. If you have to list five factors that have been/are the biggest asset to your organization, what would they be and why?

  • Our passion and drive to genuinely support patients and their families – ‘We Always Put Patient First’ is one of our three core values. Our values and mantra have been created by our employees. They live by our mission of Commit. Connect. Cure.
  • The complementarity of management – Each brings a set of skills and expertise.
  • Our Focused approach on the rare and genetic disease segment – This has positioned us as the primary experts in the field in the MENA region. Many companies are approaching us for either a commercial partnership or strategic advice.
  • Our staff – We have been able to create a bond with our staff that brings a family-type atmosphere to Genpharm.
    We have been able to promote from within and many of our employees have appreciated the early risk that was taken on. We have introduced a Employee Share Option Plan to reward and retain our best performers.
  • The trust and patience of shareholders and the boardroom – We are very fortunate to have shareholders that have taken the long-term view with us and a supportive board.

Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

We feel we are only at the beginning of our growth potential. We can do so much more, help more patients, support more companies in launching successfully their innovative drugs. Although we have been approached recently by more than a couple of entities and individuals interested to acquire us or buy equity, we feel that since we have become profitable, we can still grow organically and generate value for our early shareholders without diluting anyone’s capital.

For every entrepreneur, being able to grow a company from the ground, turning into a sustainable and profitable business is a huge success. We firmly believe that once this stage is reached, the rest will take care on its own.

“We strive to be the partner of choice for multinational healthcare and pharmaceutical companies expanding into the Middle East and North Africa region.”