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What should biotechnology and biomedical companies take into account when internationalizing? For the three entrepreneurs and executives who participated in the second Lessons Learned session of 2017, organized by Biocat and CataloniaBio on 5 April at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), it is clear: there are many internationalization strategies and the one you choose depends on the size and commercial aims of the company, as well as the country targeted.

However, they all highlighted the need for a good contact to act as a cultural bridge. “Without our intermediary, we’d never have been able to enter India,” explained Pere-Joan Cardona, moderator of the event and co-founder of Manremyc. Manremyc has closed deals with Tablets India and SRS Life Sciences to introduce Nyaditum resae®, their food supplement to prevent tuberculosis, in Asia and Africa.

The participants proposed two ways to make the first contact with a future market. The first is the business missions organized by ACCIÓ for the Government of Catalonia, which according to the Lessons Learned speakers are a great opportunity to not only make contacts but also learn from the experiences of other businesspeople. In this regard, Biocat has announced it is preparing two missions in 2017, one to Japan and one to Israel. The other path is through international fairs in the sector, like the BIO International Convention, above all as a gateway for companies with a finished product seeking a distributor.

After initial contact is made, it is important to try to maintain the brand name because, if the relationship were to break down, it is essential to keep the name on the market. Another piece of advice they had was to be patient and not be afraid of making mistakes. The process of opening up a new international market is often long and difficult.

Pere-Joan Cardona explained how his company, Manremyc, managed to enter India, which has the highest potential of almost any market as 2.5 million new cases of tuberculosis are diagnosed there each year. Cardona highlighted the great work of Inquve and its director Carol Rius in getting them the contacts they needed. “It is essential to have someone who understands the local culture,” he said. He also stressed the importance of adapting the product to local cultural.

Ability Pharmaceuticals had a drug candidate in phase 1 when they began internationalizing. This spin-off of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) is developing an oral therapy for patients with endometrial or lung cancer (ABTL0812), which could also be effective in treating liver and breast cancer. “The big pharmaceutical companies don’t negotiate until you’ve done clinical trials and to fund phase 2 we decided to close a deal on future distribution in smaller markets,” explained Carles Domènech, CEO of the company. Regions like China, Latin America and Korea are where distributors are most willing to commit to drugs before clinical trials.

The first country Ability Pharmaceuticals entered was China, and it did so with US-based Sciclone. In the contract, Ability kept ownership of the patent and Sciclone will be responsible for regulatory issues and distributing the drug. “With the money from this deal, we’ve launched a clinical trial in Spain and France,” said Domènech.

InKemia, unlike the other two, isn’t a start-up looking to sell a product but a consolidated group that offers specialized services for companies in the sector. Their first foray into an international market was in Brazil. They chose this country for its economic potential. “To enter Brazil, you need a partner,” explained InKemia CFO Xavier Castells, “and the first one is always wrong.” The ACCIÓ office in Sao Paulo helped in their search for a partner, scouting for candidates.

The second market InKemia moved into was Colombia. “The country has a highly stable economy that is open to foreign investment in key sectors,” said Castells. “The government’s willingness makes it easier for a company to establish itself there. If you project a stable image and offer quality services, Colombia is the second-best market in South America,” Castells believes.

The lessons learned by Spiral Therapeutics were also interesting. This American biopharmaceutical company was created by a Catalan man and has its R&D department in Barcelona. Hugo Peris, founder of the company based in San Francisco (Silicon Valley) and fourth-generation of Laboratorios Salvat, believes the American market is easy because “companies tell you exactly what they want from you.” Like in the other countries discussed, without “solid networking, you won’t go anywhere. And if you want to present a product, it is very important to get help from an agency because FDA regulations are highly complex and specific.” In Catalonia, there are several consultancies specializing in this area.

Peris believes that Catalan companies have huge potential for internationalization but become paralyzed by their own insecurities. “We have a very powerful sector; all we have to do is believe in ourselves.”  

The next Lessons Learned session will be on 31 May and focus on innovation and technology transfer. We look forward to seeing you there!


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