Bringing Pharmaceutical Innovation To The Region
Joe Henein, President and CEO of NewBridge Pharmaceuticals (NBP), discusses his company and about presenting innovation to the healthcare field in the region.
Bridging the access gap has been a key tenet of NBP’s vision. What does this actually mean to you? And how do you measure your performance on this issue?
There are many innovative therapies produced by biopharmaceutical companies that elect not to operate in MENA. So, we created a regional platform for them to partner with us and extend a bridge to bring their innovation from west to east. This is where the name, NewBridge Pharmaceuticals, came from.
We built the infrastructure, organization and processes to provide these drugs to the region, procure approval from healthcare authorities, secure access to the physicians and patients, and commercialize them across the region.
We are focused on certain therapeutic areas like immunology, oncology, neurology, metabolic and orphan diseases. These innovative therapeutics usually address unmet medical needs for diseases with high
prevalence in the region. So, our success is measured by our ability to bring these serious innovations to the region, and successfully avail these new treatment modalities to help improve patients’ journey and their lives. In addition, our performance is also measured by creating value for our partners for their innovative therapies across 15 countries within the region.
I have over 35 years of experience In the pharmaceuticals industry in the U.S., Europe and MENA, and I take special pride in my role as the head of this company. My current role helps me lead a meaningful purpose in attracting these scientific advancements in medicine and aiding the treatment of the region’s patients in areas of our specialties.
What types of investor do you currently have onboard?
We have shareholders from the U.S. and Kuwait. Our U.S.based investors only deal with healthcare and biopharmaceuticals, while the Kuwait-based investors represent institutional investors and sovereign wealth fund.
They are very supportive of the mission and vision of NewBridge Pharmaceuticals and have been our investors for over 10 years now.
To what extent has NBP had an inorganic growth?
Since our first full commercial year in 2013, we grew organically with around 38% CAGR.
We haven’t focused on inorganic growth as we have been committed to ensuring a successful track record with the therapies we licensed so far. However, we are examining other regions, and will include an inorganic addition to our existing business when the time and opportunity arise.
Is the U.A.E. government sufficiently rewarding innovation? The U.A.E. recognizes innovation in pharmaceuticals very well, from offering early approvals to innovative medicines, to adequate protection of intellectual property rights. It also offers the general environment, infrastructure, and openness for innovative startups like NewBridge to operate across the region, taking the U.A.E. as its headquarters.
As an innovator, does NBP maintain strong contact with medical associations here in the Middle East? To be successful in our business, you need to know your customers well and provide the awareness and the education necessary for the regulators and the medical community about the innovation we bring to the region. We work with key opinion leaders who are usually early adopters and are probably first to know about these new drugs. In addition, we connect well with medical associations, universities, and specialty physicians. Patients’ education and enhancing their awareness about diseases are also important.
After 35 years spent in the big pharma industry, what has been your proudest achievement?
While in the U.S. during my time as the VP & Global Therapeutic Area CoChair/Commercial Global Chair for antiinfectives at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals – U.S.A., I was responsible for the development of a product that was still in phase 2. However, at the time, the FDA issued some regulations on development guidelines for antibiotics, making it difficult for companies to continue investing money and efforts into developing new antibiotics. Unfortunately, all this happened while the world was on the verge of facing global resistance problems.
My other co-chair colleague and I took the challenge and addressed the issue with the FDA to increase awareness of the increased costs as consequences of these new guidelines and resulting delays or even stopping the anti-infectives research altogether.
Weeks later in New York city, a crisis erupted when patients started facing serious microbes that didn’t respond to any available treatment. The FDA asked Wyeth to supply our new drug, despite the fact it was pending approval. Upon administering our drug, many of these desperate patients were cured. In response, the FDA allowed us to continue our development, even fast tracking the approval of a drug called Tygacil®.
Another proud moment in my career was my time as the Managing Director of Wyeth in MENA. During this period, I took the lead in introducing a pediatric vaccine and secured governments’ endorsement to include this amongst routine vaccination schedule for infants in six countries around the region. Prevenar® is now with Pfizer after it acquired Wyeth. Now, many more kids are safer because of this vaccine.
What will this industry look like in five years?
We will see more personalized medicine tailored to the genetic or biological make up of each person. We will hear more of gene therapy, orphan diseases, and biological advancement in therapeutics.
Although the human genome was successfully decoded years ago, we have started to see the fruits of it now. We tend to understand the root causes of some of these diseases better than before, and now we are seeing a plethora of innovation coming our way and in the next few years.