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CPHI Frankfurt 2022: Innovator Interview – CordenPharma
In this interview from CPHI Frankfurt 2022, we speak to Dr Michael Quirmbach of CordenPharma about his role as President and CEO and what CordenPharma is bringing to the pharma industry.
“CPHI gives us the right chemistry to figure things out together with our customers”
Dr Michael Quirmbach, President & CEO of CordenPharma, discusses his work and what CPHI Frankfurt means to CordenPharma.
Please could you give us some background of your career and what led you to your current position as CEO of CordenPharma?
My name is Dr Michael Quirmbach and I trained as an organic chemist. I started in the CDMO business more than 20 years ago, initially working in the US, and then for several other CDMOs before joining CordenPharma 8 years ago. My first role at CordenPharma was as the global head of Marketing & Sales and then, after becoming Chief Business Officer for a period, was promoted to CEO about 3 years ago.
What are the key products CordenPharma showcased at CPHI Frankfurt this year?
CordenPharma is a CDMO of around 3,000 employees with 12 manufacturing sites structured across five technology platforms. These platforms include Peptides, Lipids & Carbohydrates, Small Molecules, Highly Potent & Oncology, and Injectables. What is unique about CordenPharma is that we provide integrated supply solutions for our technology platforms to help pharma companies accelerate their development. This means everything from Early stage to Phase I and Commercial across all of our platforms. We also offer end-to-end solutions for APIs and mRNA supply, from lipid formulations to lipid synthesis. We have a lot of broad capabilities that can add real value to patients by bringing new medications faster to the market.
How are you hoping these products will impact healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry?
We are focused on innovative molecules, and are known for making New Chemical Entities (NCEs). We have a number of examples where we are working for customers bringing new molecules and modalities to the market. For example, we collaborated with the American biotech company Moderna on the supply of critical lipid excipients for the mRNA vaccine.
In another example, we worked with a customer for more than 7 years to support the initial clinical trial manufacturing and ultimate commercial launch of a long peptide molecule for diabetes which we are manufacturing at a scale > 100 kg/batch. Our CordenPharma Colorado site is uniquely positioned for this, having the world’s largest peptide capacities available. We are very proud of this collaboration because it shows the value CordenPharma can bring to customers and patients from small-scale clinical trial to large-scale commercial manufacturing of complex innovative molecules.
In addition, under the Highly Potent & Oncology platform, we are manufacturing an innovative breast cancer medication, which our customer launched in 2020. We also have several new small molecules under development with customers. All of those things are contributing to improving patient health.
What challenges have you faced in the last couple of years and how have you overcome them?
When COVID hit, we had a big challenge to find a good balance between working in the home and the office or plant. Thankfully, none of our facilities had to shut down, and we were able to ensure our customers’ business continuity by manufacturing their critical medicines. Also, an important digitalisation initiative emerged internally. Another challenge was the immediate need to scale up new lipid production, which in the past we had only done on a small kilo scale, and suddenly, had to scale up to hundreds of kilos.
Throughout the pandemic, the resiliency of CordenPharma managed well in such a complex situation to provide rapidly scaled-up production of propofol for people who needed to be sedated in the ICU. In order to accomplish this, we had to hire more than 70 people in record time to move from two-shift operations to three-shift operations. Our team did fabulous job, and now, of course, as COVID moves to a more endemic situation, we are now moving on to focus on scaling up other projects.
Our main challenge today is finding top talent. In some areas, such as in the US, we are hiring a lot of people, bringing talent into our organisation. However, finding engineers and project managers remains a real challenge.
How do you think events like CPHI Frankfurt help companies such as CordenPharma in the pharmaceutical industry?
It’s the industry event of the year - it’s huge for CordenPharma! CPHI Frankfurt helps us to stay in touch with existing customers and refresh relationships. We also find new customers and make very interesting contacts during the show. It’s key for CordenPharma. What we see is that having face-to-face meetings is still very important. People got tired of Teams calls. You need a balance, but personally it’s invaluable for my team to have this face-to-face interaction. It’s a good exchange of ideas, and that’s different when you do it in person. It’s a lot about gaining trust with suppliers and maintaining that relationship. For customers, to make the decision to outsource their molecule is a big step, so they need to be sure to pick the right partner. You must have the right chemistry and figure it out together.
Sustainability is a topic of increasing importance for all in the pharmaceutical industry, including CordenPharma, how do you keep these values at the core of what you do?
At the top of our agenda is ESG. We started working a couple of years ago with companies such as Ecovadis, and our new shareholder Astorg – a private equity company with a big emphasis on ESG – so of course they are expecting that level from the companies in their portfolio. We are working to get all our facilities approved at the highest level of Ecovadis sustainability rating (gold). Also, what we see today is that our customers, particularly the larger pharma companies, are putting a lot of emphasis on ESG, so they look for that in a supplier. They want to make sure we are using the right processes to reduce our carbon footprint and increase health and safety standards. It’s going to get much more attention than in the past. It’s the right thing to do. Big pharma companies need to not only set a target for themselves, but also choose suppliers that know how to implement ESG targets. It must be throughout the whole supply chain – that’s key.
What can we expect to see from CordenPharma in the next few years and at future CPHI events?
We are heavily investing in all our different platforms with firstly, additional technology, and secondly, expanded capacity. For example, when we look today at our Lipids & Carbohydrates and Injectables platforms, we are now offering an expanded service of end-to-end solutions in not only synthesising lipid excipients, but also offering Lipid NanoParticle (LNP) formulation, combined with existing sterile injectable drug product manufacturing. We will also be looking into both organic and inorganic growth with a focus in the US and Europe.
What were you most looking forward to this year at CPHI Frankfurt?
I was very busy with face-to-face meetings – that’s what I looked forward to the most. There were also some great talks, which I will look at online now that the in-person event is over.
Any final comments?
I think it’s important to mention the energy crisis is having a big impact on many companies, so it will be interesting to see how can work together to combat over time. Finally, to highlight our additional Capex programs, which started in 2021 and will continue through 2023/2024, we look forward to an exciting chapter of strategy and growth for CordenPharma, with the encouragement and support of our new shareholders.
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