Awarded the Ernst and Young prize for Entrepreneur of the year 2009
in the Technology category for the Greater Washington region last June, Fuad
El-Hibri is the CEO of Emergent Biosolutions, an American company
that supplies the anthrax vaccine to the American government. He is in
line for the national E&Y 2009 prize, which will be awarded on
November 14 in California
He is a tall, imposing and smiling man. He has the assurance of those who are proud of their career and the modesty of those who attribute their success to the staff around them. He has just won the Ernst and Young prize for Entrepreneur of the year 2009 in the Technology category for the Greater Washington region. This prize rewards over 15 years in the biopharmaceutical industry, ten of which have been dedicated to Emergent Biosolutions, the company that supplies the only anthrax vaccine approved by the American government’s powerful Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Fuad El-Hibri landed in biopharmaceuticals somewhat by chance and somewhat by interest. He defines himself as “an entrepreneur in spirit” and, before dedicating himself to biopharmaceuticals, he had already created and sold various telecommunications companies in Russia, Venezuela and El Salvador. In the early 90s, this German native, born to a Lebanese father and a German mother, and who had spent time in the banking industry (Citibank) and consultant (BoozAllen & Hamilton), joins Porton Product, a biotechnology company located in the United Kingdom. There he plays a predominant role in marketing and sales of biodefense vaccines to foreign governments. Hibri is, in particular, a key man behind the purchase by Saudi Arabia of anthrax vaccines during the first Gulf war. This is where he maintains he gained his insight into the magnitude of the need for medical solutions to combat bioterrorism. In 1994, he organized the buy-back of Porton Products by its managers, before reselling his shares in 1996 (the price is not known).
In 1998, an opportunity opened up for him to buy BioThrax in competitive bidding, the only anti-anthrax vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, until then owned by the State of Michigan. So he creates BioPort, obtains American nationality . in 1999, wins the bidding (approximately 24 million dollars) and finds himself at the head of a company with 170 employees, and develops a product: BioThrax.
Hibri has in fact the advantage of a monopoly situation since he is the only supplier of the American government who buys millions of doses of BioThrax per year from him to vaccinate its servicemen and to maintain a stock in case of bioterrorist attack. A situation which fuels all the controversies, as proved by the frenzied comments posted on the Internet.
Once BioPort is consolidated, and to diversify his portfolio, Hibri buys several biotechnology companies. In 2003, BioPort buys Antex, an American company working on the development of a vaccine against chlamydia. In 2005, the company, which in the meantime has become Emergent Biosolutions, acquired Microscience, an English company which had invested in research on hepatitis B and typhoid. In 2006, it purchased VIVACS, a German company specialized in research on the influenza vaccine. In 2008, it does a joint venture with Oxford University (among others) to develop a vaccine against tuberculosis.
Today, Emergent is at the head of a developing portfolio of vaccines and treatments against seven diseases which could bring in “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” when the products are on the market, according to Hibri. Four of these should be on the market within four to seven years. Most of these products have the specific feature of only requiring two technologies that the company has: a technology for vaccines given orally and another for vaccines administered by injection. “Which leads to major synergies enabling substantial cost savings to be made,” explains Hibri. But Emergent is in direct competition with large pharmaceutical laboratories such as Sanofi, Novartis and Roche on the development of these treatments and vaccines, of more commercial use than BioThrax. Furthermore, even with anthrax, Emergent will probably have to face competition from other biotechnology laboratories, like PharmAthene and Cangene, who are currently in the development phase of vaccines and treatment against the bacterium. In the meantime, to meet increasing demand from the American government, and that of other foreign governments who fill out its client portfolio, Emergent has recently invested in its BioThrax production capacity: it has gone from a capacity of three million doses per year to eight million and is currently validating a new factory in Michigan which can produce up to 40 million doses per year.
Today, eleven years after acquiring BioThrax, the latter, still provides the bulk of the company’s turnover (178.6 million dollars in 2008), the other part coming from development contracts with the government and revenue granted by public or private funds.
Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.
Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.
The disease is transmitted by spores, or contaminated hide, but not from human to human. Cultivation of the bacterium and spores are relatively easy in a laboratory, which makes it an ideal biological weapon.
The company has 600 employees and has been quoted on the New York stock exchange since 2006, with a capitalization of 500 million dollars. Hibri, his family and his management staff keep control of the company with over half of the capital. Emergent has a presence in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, China and Germany. And for seven years, between 2000 and 2007, it has experienced uninterrupted growth.
This is partially why the E&Y prize was awarded to Hibri. Other
criteria were also taken into account: his ability to inspire his staff,
who, he himself acknowledges are “dedicated and motivated”; and his
philanthropic involvement in numerous charity organizations, among which
the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation, created by his father, that among
other things finances the Dar Al-Aytam orphanage in Lebanon.