Finance Asia interviews Róbert Wessman

CEO Róbert Wessman aims to expand Alvogen's presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and predicts the company will become a leading force in the region.

Róbert Wessman, CEO of one of the world's fastest-growing generic pharmaceutical firms, Alvogen, plans to expand its presence in China, as Asia-Pacific (APAC) proves to be an increasingly prolific region for the company.

"Since 2012, we've been building a regional platform for growth across APAC, ,vith commercial operations in 11 countries in Asia, marketing hundreds of products." said Róbert Wessman. "We've made significant investments in high-quality manufacturing through the successful integration of Kunwha, Dream Pharma and Lotus Pharma, with manufacturing and R&D entres in Korea and Taiwan."

Generics, brands, biosimilars and over-the-counter medicines

Alvogen's portfolio includes generics, brands, biosimilars and over-the-counter medicines. One of its largest product launches was the first-to-market generic alternative ofTamiflu in the US.

The decision to drive the business forward into APAC now looks perfectly timed. China continues to enjoy high, single-digit growth, which is forecast to last at least until 2020 with generics being the major driver for the pharmaceutical industry in the region.

The Icelandic businessman's career to date includes transforming two emerging companies, Actavis and Alvogen into global players in the pharmaceutical industry. Alvogen, created in 2009, has become a leading global generic pharmaceutical company, while its sister company, Alvotech, founded in 2013, focuses on biosimilar pharmaceuticals.

Making an instant impact, with Actavis

Róbert Wessman always wanted to make an immediate impression on the business world. After a brief spell working in an Icelandic bank, he took on a struggling shipping company before returning to Iceland to turn around struggling generic drug maker, Delta, in Reykjavik.

It was a high-risk project and not one many entrepreneurs would have taken on. "I had to take out a personally guaranteed loan for €10 million from a local bank in order to grow the organisation from 90 people in 1999, to 11,000 in 2007," he said. Under his leadership, the company was transformed into Actavis, a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical business. While publicly listed, Actavis saw an average annual rise in its share price of 55% a year.

Back-to-back start-up success

In 2008, he parted ways with Actavis but things didn't quite play out as he envisaged. He planned to start his own pharmaceutical business with the returns on his investment at Actavis, but before he had time to move, the global financial crisis took hold.

"I lost $250 million in the economic crash of 2008," he said. "As you can imagine, access to capital was low at that point, so I had to be astute with my next move."

He planned to manufacture his portfolio via a small contract manufacturing platform in New York, Norwich Pharmaceuticals, a company with only $37 million of revenues and no profits.

Things didn't get off to the best start, he acknowledged, after it came to light that Norwich's facilities would require a $50 million upgrade to manufacture his portfolio. However, with the investment secured and Róbert Wessman at the helm as executive chairman, a new global generic company, Alvogen, was born.

Establishing Alvogen as a global player

Róbert Wessman's ambition was to create a leading global generic pharmaceuticals company and a set new standard in the industry. A year before Alvogen's 10th anniversary, the company posted an annual turnover of more than $ 1 billion, a 26-fold increase in only nine years.

Róbert Wessman also created Alvotech, with a strategy to invest in the development and manufacturing of a portfolio of biosimilar monoclonal antibodies. The company now includes leading monoclonal antibodies in its product pipeline and a state-of-the-art biotech facility in Iceland's capital Reykjavik.

"We're close to achieving our vision, thanks to a strong presence in our largest market, the US and fast-growing footprints in emerging markets in the CEE and APAC regions," Róbert Wessman explained.

Over the next couple of years, Alvogen aims to become one of the top industry players in APAC. Given Róbert Wessman's track record and 'anything is possible' mentality, you wouldn't bet against it.