Bold Bets

Serono is muscling its way into the US market with head-to-head trials and big marketing partners.
Jan 01, 2005

President Fereydoun Firouz has big plans for Serono's US division.
From its origins as a small company making reproductive hormones to its current status as market leader in multiple sclerosis, Serono has always done things in a big way. The company created the infertility market with two early products: Pergonal (menotropins), used for the in vitro fertilization (IVF) of the first test-tube baby, and Profasi (chorionic gonadatropin), collected from the urine of 100,000 postmenopausal women. Serono later boldly put its MS drug Rebif (interferon beta1a) up against Biogen's Avonex, a similar interferon, in a head-to-head trial and proved Rebif's superiority.

Now the company's US division, led by President Fereydoun Firouz, has more grand ambitions: to make the Swiss company a global market leader in its three main therapeutic franchises—reproductive health, metabolic disorders, and neurology—and to make the name Serono top-of-mind when physicians and patients in the United States think about biotech companies.

Firouz is confident his team can make it happen. "We deliver on the promise," he says. "And we deliver on the financial numbers, too. In the United States, this company is operating at 20 percent growth top line and 20 percent growth bottom line. Three years ago, we were doing half of those sales."

But in terms of corporate branding, the company still has some work cut out for it. Although Serono is a household name in Europe, in the United States it is battling for recognition against the big biotechs based here—Amgen, Genentech, and Biogen-Idec. But with eight recombinant products to sell and a powerful marketing partner (Pfizer), the company is quickly catching up. (See "On the Market,") In 2003, Serono's global sales passed the $2 billion mark for the first time, and sales for 2004 are on track to hit $2.4 billion.

Paul Lammers (left), chief medical officer; Stuart Grant, chief financial officer; and Pamela Williamson Joyce, VP, regulatory affairs and quality assurance, are top members of Seronos US management team leading the companys push into the US market.
Global Base Serono's brand recognition in Europe is rooted in longevity. The company was founded in Rome in 1906 by Cesare Serono, a doctor in chemistry and medicine, who extracted lecithin from egg yolks to create a tonic called bioplastina. In the 1960s Serono began to extract female hormones from urine to create the first infertility drugs (Pergonal and Profasi). In 1988 it brought its first recombinant product, Saizen (somatropin), to market.

Serono has been under steady leadership since 1965, when Fabio Bertarelli came on board as chief executive officer. Thirty years later, Bertarelli's son, Ernesto, took the helm and runs the company today—the third generation of the Bertarelli family to do so.

Stuart Grant, chief financial officer, describes Serono's structure this way: "The Bertarelli family owns 63 percent of the capital of the company and 74 percent of the voting rights. Around 37 percent of the capital is available for external institutional and private investors."