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EF: If 2020 was the year of diagnostics and 2021 the year of vaccines, what do you think will be the key healthcare talking points for 2022?
MP: In 2018, more than 20 thousand people died from colds and flu in Germany, Poland, and Austria. In Bavaria, where Bionorica is located, all hospitals were as full as when we transitioned from the pandemic, although less critical. During COVID, there were almost no other viral infections, but this changed in June/July 2021 when we realized that people, especially children, didn't have a developed immune response, giving rise to flu. mRNA vaccines for normal colds and flu are still under research, and there are none yet. The upcoming "normal" cold and flu season could be harder than in previous years, and we need to ensure people will be able to get their medicine. Our business model will not change; we are strong in medicines for colds and flu, and we have successfully used evidence-based research for uncomplicated urinary tract infections and antibiotic replacements, which we introduced in many markets. We have high-quality science- and evidence-based products for women's health, which we will be introducing to the market to broaden our product portfolio. The portfolio in Germany, Austria, and Poland is respiratory and viral infection oriented. We always get European marketing authorization approval for our products before we enter a new country and market, and we then submit them worldwide to other regulatory agencies.
EF: Could you elaborate on Bionorica’s footprint and how to stay a leader in the market?
MP: I joined the company before the re-registration of all the European markets and the new pharmaceutical laws when we had only one market: Germany. Physicians were the only channel, and we were relying on the German reimbursement system. As I realized it was risky to depend on this, I started working with pharmacists, and today we are the best-liked company in Germany by pharmacists. We focused on developing various respiratory disease products, which are today very popular.
In Germany, we are developing women's health and urinary tract infection products and developed growth, which is an advantage when expanding market share. In East Europe, we market multiple products; we first started with respiratory, then urinary tract infection products, so we have a track record. Now we are working to increase our market share to give us the opportunity to grow stronger in each country with different products. The markets are also increasing; the urinary tract infection market is growing worldwide because, historically, women didn't take medication; they take painkillers or antibiotics or drink more liquids. As antimicrobial resistance awareness is increasing and the use of antibiotics is being reduced, the urinary market will automatically grow. An example can be seen with respiratory diseases: 20 or 30 years ago, physicians used to prescribe antibiotics to children, which is not the best medical option. Now, plant-based medicines are prescribed.
EF: Considering your success story, what would be your advice to other family companies that are willing to take their business to the next level?
MP: When I took over, Bionorica was quite small, and we had difficulties with product registrations. My first decision was to focus. Even now, as a medium-sized company, we still have to focus and prioritize. A concept is needed; in my case, it was clear: do research, run clinical trials. Bringing evidence to plant-based medicine to work on new products was unusual back then. We invested and grew, always focusing on our priorities in all we did. Our concept includes working closely with physicians and pharmacists. We enter new markets with the approval of regulatory agencies with new registrations achieved through our evidence-based focused strategy.
EF: How would you rate the level of awareness of phytopharmaceuticals in Europe, and how have the trends developed over recent years?
MP: Germany is the best market for phytopharmaceuticals in Europe; it has the highest awareness and acceptance of these types of pharmaceuticals. The trends in Europe are not bad and they seem to follow; the second biggest market is France, where the market has been impacted because homeopathic products are no longer reimbursed, giving plant-based medicine a huge opportunity.
Homeopathy has been one of our our biggest competitor, and without reimbursement, people are looking at plant-based medications, a huge advantage for us. In France, the market for homeopathic, supplements, and other similar medicines is quite big, and we could take over as our products are plant-based medicines. Spain also has a growing market for our products and food supplements, but there is still a need to educate physicians and pharmacists on their use and why they are better than food supplements. Food supplements don't compare to our products; they don't have Good Manufacturing Practices or quality control. Italy is a big market for natural products, mainly food supplements, but awareness of the value of phytopharmaceuticals among Italian physicians, pharmacists, and patients is still needed. It will be a market with opportunities and changes over the next few years. Poland is a good market for us; it is growing because the Polish economic situation is convenient.
Today, we are present in many countries, and we have many opportunities. However, it wasn't easy to get marketing authorizations for plant-based medicines years ago, mainly because we didn't have the European Phyto regulation, which helped to introduce products in different markets. As an example, getting approval in Poland used to take about six years, and now with European regulation it can be done in less than two years, which is encouraging. In Spain, it took us years to get approval because there was no department to work on our case. Things have changed since our portfolio was approved in Spain.
EF: In pursuing research-based evidence and clinical trials, I understand you work with multiple partners. How do you find and work with your partners, considering they are scattered worldwide?
MP: Having all the research and employees in-house would be a mistake. One can still consult the best scientists without having them join the company. Cooperating with great independent scientists and the best universities and institutes is better. We look for the best scientists and laboratories; in Birmingham, Alabama, Philadelphia, Stockholm, or wherever they are, we find them and convince them to collaborate with us. It doesn't matter where they are, if they are the best at what they do. It can also threaten a department leader to have a scientist that is better or knows more than the leader, causing a problem within the leadership. As the owner and CEO, I am a generalist, and all my co-workers must know more than I do in their field. As a company, we want to learn from the best and combine it with our knowledge for successful research.
EF: How do you attract the best and the brightest to come on board with you?
MP: Thirty years ago, it was very difficult to bring the brightest as people could not see the value in plant-based medicine. They just thought it was just a placebo and didn't work. Without research, we could not get results; without results, we couldn't publish anything. As we managed to conduct research, get results, and publish the information, today it is possible to demonstrate the value of our products and convince anybody worldwide of their worth. It is no longer a problem; we are accepted as a company. We are a plant-based medicine company, and nature matters to the younger generation. The work culture has changed; 20 years ago, the salary was the most important point when looking for a job. Nowadays, the concept of purpose has also become important. How to contribute to society and influence the future positively are issues that matter when taking a position in a company.
EF: What would you like to celebrate next year for Bionorica's 90th anniversary? What will your message be to your team and those who made it all possible?
MP: Our concept is not about reflecting on the last 90 years. We must be fresh and young in our minds and actions, continually looking for new ideas. All the work and thinking of all the co-workers should be the same as when we started the company. Today, we adapt to digital in operations and marketing. We strive to be competitive and, when possible, ahead of our competitors. Celebrating 90 years means looking into the future, not to the past, proving we are updated and striving to improve our research. I celebrate our anniversaries scientifically, not historically.