EP Vantage interview – Addressing the Mundi-who?

Interviews

Mundipharma is an unashamed bottom-feeder. “We love assets that are in the wrong indication ... whose developers are asleep at the wheel,” Georg Toufar, the group’s chief marketing officer, tells EP Vantage in an interview.

Along with a somewhat unusual business model this could give the group an edge in partnering discussions at a time when asset prices are going through the roof. One difficulty is that the family-owned Mundipharma still operates below the radar of many industry players, and one of Mr Toufar’s aims is to boost its profile.

“We’re addressing the Mundi-who?” he says, referring to what is still sometimes asked when the group’s name is mentioned.

Speciality pharma?

On the face of it the company’s business is fairly typical. It basically licenses in late-stage assets to develop and push in the market, operating in what Mr Toufar calls the “third sector” on a spectrum that has generics at one end and big pharma at the other.

That would be speciality pharma, right? Not necessarily, he argues, as this concept excludes primary care, an area in which Mundipharma clearly has a presence in its pain and respiratory franchises.

Rather, the group’s selling point is being active in innovation at the same time as having broad expertise in reimbursement and marketing. “We try to do the hard lifting up front,” says Mr Toufar, since it is no good working on a project and only looking at reimbursement once it is about to be launched.

He sees some similarity with Teva’s new therapeutic entities concept – “we’ll see if that can fly outside the US” – the “takeover machine” that is Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoSmithKline’s mature business units, though on a smaller scale. Just how small is hard to gauge given Mundipharma’s notorious secrecy; sales are a “handful of billions of dollars” across the global organisation, says Mr Toufar.

This global organisation, of course, includes the US company Purdue Pharma, whose purchase in 1952 by the Sackler family kicked it all off. Mundipharma was established shortly afterwards as part of an internationalisation effort, and the Sacklers, who still own it, later became famous for philanthropy and sponsorship of the arts.

While the various units exist as “independent associated companies”, the split is geographical; Antony Mattessich heads up the European region, while the US head is Mark Timney, who was named chief executive of Purdue in January.

Purdue is effectively a one-product company focused on OxyContin, a highly successful long-acting narcotic whose sales are now falling – from $2.4bn to $1.9bn last year, according to EvaluatePharma's estimates.

Rude health

Unusually for a problematic territory, however, the Europe business is in rude health. In Europe “only Shire has grown faster, but it’s smaller (there) than we are”, says Mr Toufar.

His sweet spot for licensing is phase II or III, but the key differentiation is a predilection for “failed assets, weak incumbents, rough diamonds and projects that are not yet ready and need a bit of love”. A typical project might already have been looked at and turned down by 12 other companies, he jokes.

But the rise in asset prices is making deal-making tough, and this must be felt particularly acutely by a private company for which equity fund raising is not an option. “But we’re looking at a lower level of sales (than other companies). We’ll happily take on commercial risk that big pharma might shy away from.”

Scientific risk is another story, however, and the company will generally not look at entirely novel projects – though the clear outlier here is its now terminated oncology deal with Infinity Pharmaceuticals – “the furthest we’ve gone into early stage”, says Mr Toufar (Purdue pulls back from biotech with sale of Infinity stake, April 15, 2013).

Since Mundipharma’s business is asset-led it is not wedded to particular therapy areas, though clearly the pain franchise plays a big role. The old non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma drug bendamustine – still popular thanks to a survival benefit and modest premium to generics – is its oncology standard-bearer, and Skyepharma’s Flutiform is its European asthma hope.

Still, asked about the R&D pipeline Mr Toufar grows cagey, refusing to name specific projects. He puts this down to not wanting the competition to know too early what Mundipharma is up to, and says with a private company there is at least the luxury of saying as much or as little as you want.

How this fits with its desire for more openness is not clear, though the company now has a website – something it lacked just two years ago. “People looking for partners in Europe have to know we exist,” says Mr Toufar, no doubt realising that there is still plenty to be done here.

To contact the writer of this story email Jacob Plieth in London at jacobp@epvantage.com or follow @JacobEPVantage on Twitter

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