It’s been six weeks since Jon Kafer left what had been a long and illustrious career in big pharma to take on the job of inaugural President for LumaCina, the newest addition to the growing $3 billion US Bridgewest Pharma group and likely to have the highest profile, the LumaCina brand set to be stamped on its Australian-made products.
A private equity group, Bridgewest recently added Pfizer’s Perth injectables manufacturing facility to its growing stable that includes Pfizer’s former Adelaide plant. Kafer brought onboard with the immediate task of getting the Perth plant back up to speed after Pfizer wound it down in preparation for what was expected to be its closure.
While Pfizer has since contracted Bridgewest to make 11 of its existing products as it prepares to transition them offshore and to its remaining Melbourne facility, Kafer is pivoting his focus to building new partnerships, starting with a commercial deal with local hospital injectables specialist Juno Pharmaceuticals, part of the Arrotex group.
Juno has taken on sales and marketing for LumaCina. Juno says there is "a strong synergy between the two companies" and that it expects Bridgewest "will bring supply stability and innovation to the market."
But the deal is just the beginning as Kafer also plans to beef up R&D at the site and grow LumaCina’s own portfolio, the first LumaCina branded-products set to appear on the ARTG in Q3 but for now, he is concentrating on ensuring the Perth facility meets its existing commitments.
"Pfizer was winding down, so had stopped investing," he told MedNews. "We lost opportunity, we lost volume." With Juno, we’re cranking it back up – we need product, and we need volume.
"We sat down with Juno and asked, where are the market opportunities? Where are we going? There’s untapped potential just by getting back into the game, so I pulled everybody together and said, here’s our production plan – let’s go."
Kafer soon found shifting 400 employees to a more agile, entrepreneurial mindset after 30 years under Pfizer was not that simple, but having himself worked for the likes of Novartis, Teva and Allergan, Kafer knows the Big Pharma mindset all too well.
What drew him to LumaCina was not just the opportunity of joining a fast growing generics company, it was also about keeping hundreds of West Australian jobs that would otherwise have disappeared. Hence, getting the Perth team onboard and energised was an essential part of his game plan.
"We’ve got to be fast, we’ve got to be nimble, we’re going to take risks," he recalls telling the Perth team, no doubt still reeling from their sudden change in fortune. "You don’t have to ask Mum and Dad anymore. There is no more ‘above site’ – we are the site, we are it."
Local sales expert signs on
Kafer recently made his first hire in former Celltrion ANZ Marketing Head Anthony Boteju as Sales and Marketing VP. Having previously spent six years at Pfizer/Hospira, Boteju is well acquainted with the Pfizer hospital portfolio of anaesthetics, anti-infectives, sodium chloride and other injectables, while he describes LumaCina as "hungry" for success.
Both Kafer and Boteju stress the importance of LumaCina’s commitment to Australia just as Pfizer follows in the well-worn footsteps of other large pharma companies in closing out of most of its manufacturing footprint, but Bridgewest is also looking at the Australian Government’s desire to ramp up onshore medicines manufacturing as key to its own success in an area where so many others have failed.
"We view our role in the industry as a value creator," CEO Masood Tayebi said in a recent media release. "We tap our intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit, pumping in resources and forward-looking technology, while keeping customers close. We’re building on the 20-year Pfizer Perth legacy to bring forth new jobs, increased product availability, new injectable medicines and a grand vitality to a region poised to become a global leader."
Tayebi’s words point to the company’s ambitious plans for Australia and Kafer is clearly "all in" when it comes to bringing to life the vision of a bigger and better Perth facility that serves the APAC region.
While the site can’t yet make biologicals, for example, "that’s not to say that we wouldn’t make capital investments and changes to support other technologies and products down the road", he says.
"There is a lot of great discovery work being done here and we are exploring how we expand on this. Australia and New Zealand is the primary market, but the reach into Asia Pacific and other regions is very workable."