Privately-owned UK pharmaceutical companies are thriving

04 April 2019 4 min. read
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Britain’s 50 fastest-growing privately-owned pharmaceutical companies have all increased sales by at least 10% in each of their last two financial years, new research reveals, facing down headwinds such as Brexit and NHS spending pressures to deliver outstanding performance. 

According to data by Alantra, a corporate finance firm with over 280 professionals globally (of which 70 are based in the UK), pharmaceutical companies in the country are thriving. “These companies have achieved remarkable rates of growth,” said Tom Cowap, a Director in Alantra’s UK advisory business. “Many of UK’s smaller and privately-owned businesses often lead their markets globally.”

The fastest-growing pharma player in the industry – Qualasept Pharmaxo, a specialist pharmacy provider and clinical homecare company – achieved annualised sales growth of 77% over its last two financial years. The analysis reveals that firms that have made the prestigious list differentiate themselves through their ability to isolate and then communicate a diverse set of value drivers, including societal issues such as the economic case for a product, as well as patient outcomes. 

One fast grower, Prescient Healthcare Group, is focused on advising drug development and commercialisation teams (executives) for some of the largest pharmaceutical companies, as well as the smaller firms and biotechs. “We help them differentiate their assets and brands and understand the priorities of the key stakeholders who will influence and enable commercial success and patient access,” said Rakesh Verma, the company’s President of EMEA and APAC.

Pharmaceutical companies in the UK are thrivingAt Oxford PharmaGenesis, Chief Operating Officer Richard White agrees. “We no longer refer to ourselves as a medical communications business because that is too narrow,” he said. “We think HealthScience communications is a better representation of our wider range of activities: in growing areas such as value demonstration and patient communications, for example, but also in talking to a wider audience that still includes physicians, but also spans payers, patients, regulators and even policymakers.” 

For Mark Jeffery, a founding director of The Research Partnership, this shift has meant his firm now provides its specialist market research to pharmaceuticals working at every stage of the product cycle. His company is as at home researching how a marketplace might change over the next 15 years as its is analysing demand for a specific new product or forecasting future sales of an established product going off-patent. “This is a global market, with emerging market customers becoming more and more important to us,” Jeffery says. “Our value driver is the strategic direction we can give clients based on the data.” 

This is not to suggest a broader product offering will erode the importance of specialist skills. Nucleus Global Chairman Stephen Cameron said, “The complexity of the compounds that clients are developing means they need real specialist expertise in niche areas – we invest heavily in recruiting and retaining the right people to meet those needs, and talent is going to be a battleground for our sector.” Nevertheless, burgeoning demand is driving a wave of consolidation amongst the consultants. The last 12 months alone have seen medical communications group Fishawack acquire creative consultant Blue Latitude and Peloton Advantage buy Open Health Communications. Private equity interest in the sector has also been heightened.

Alex Marshall, Partner at CIL Consultants, a management consultancy with specialist teams covering this space, expects this to continue. “This is a rare opportunity to invest in a market where the leading players are generating organic growth of 10% or more each year,” he says. “It’s an industry that remains reasonably fragmented, plus emerging trends such as digitalisation and the growing importance of health economics are only just getting going.” 

Expect international expansion to be an important theme too, especially in developing and emerging markets. Prescient Healthcare Group’s Rakesh Verma says the growth of the middle classes, particularly in developing economies, will underpin a sustained increase in demand for healthcare, even if economic and political instability present short-term challenges. “These markets are going to be hugely important over the longer term, as their middle class populations grow and their governments move towards universal healthcare models,” Verma says.

“This presents new challenges for commercialising products, as pharma and biotechs have to navigate regulatory regimes they are less familiar with. The key will be to focus on individual countries, rather than falling into the trap of targeting regions or country grouping acronyms; you need to build the right infrastructure and pricing model for each specific market.”