Chief of Staph

Many said it couldn't be done, but one small company is about to get a step ahead of one giant killer bug.
Jun 01, 2005

1. Mark L. Smith, senior vice president of finance, treasurer, and CFO. 2. Henrik S. Rasmussen, MD, PhD, senior vice president, clinical, medical, and regulatory affairs. 3. Thomas H. McLain, chairman, CEO, and president. 4. H. LeRoux Jooste, senior vice president, global sales and marketing. 5. Mark Soufleris, vice president, investor and public relations.
Some Would Argue That Surgeons Achieved One Of Medicine's top breakthroughs when they first thought of washing their hands before operating. That was an important first step in protecting patients from the bacteria and viruses that have evolved into some of humanity's most deadly enemies. In keeping with the idea that prevention is the best way to deal with infection, vaccines have eviscerated the power of organisms causing polio, measles, and tetanus.

Thomas H. McLain ACPA by training, McLain served in roles of increasing responsibility at Nabi for four years before taking the reins in November 2002 from retiring CEO David Gury. Within a year, McLain was named the 2003 "Best Technology Company CEO" by the South Florida Business Journal. Words of wisdom: "Leadership isn't about 'I need to know this,' and 'we need to do that.' It's about building a rapport with the people who work with you and asking questions and learning from the answers."
Government endorsed and subsidized immunization programs have done a remarkable job of keeping most children—in developed nations, anyway—free of the diseases that once took or destroyed millions of lives. Other, more recently adopted vaccination programs, for groups at high risk for viruses causing the flu and meningitis, have become the norm in many places around the world.

One Among Hundreds
And still, despite their successes, many of the world's most widely used vaccines don't bring in big bucks for their corporate marketers. So it isn't surprising that the industry perceives vaccine manufacturing as a relatively low-margin business. Consider some sales figures: In 2003, the $3.8 billion in combined US/European sales of all marketed vaccines was about the same as sales for Johnson & Johnson's Procrit (epoetin alpha), which neared $4 billion that year. (See "One Among Hundreds")

The typical vaccine is hardly a good candidate for traditional pharmaceutical blockbuster status. But that couldn't matter less to the 727 employees of Nabi Biopharmaceuticals. Nabi is a small but growing, vertically integrated company that has long caught the eye of analysts. In 1998, for instance, it was honored as Frost & Sullivan's Market Engineering Entrepreneurial Company of the Year, for "working harder, faster, and more efficiently than its more established competitors and making solid inroads in the market despite its smaller size."

In many ways, Nabi resembles many other biopharmaceutical companies in that its business hinges on its scientific acumen in one area—immunology. Publicly traded on the NASDAQ, it has, thus far, focused on just two professional specialty markets—hematology/oncology and more recently, nephrology. It has three products on the market:

  • Nabi-HB (hepatitis B immune globulin) antibody treatment
  • PhosLo (calcium acetate), a treatment for elevated blood phosphate levels associated with kidney failure
  • Aloprim (allopurinol), an inhibitor of uric acid production for chemotherapy patients.

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