EQT portfolio company Fertin Pharma is the world’s largest independent developer and manufacturer of medicated chewing gum, a delivery platform used for, among other, smoking cessation. Since EQT Mid Market Europe acquired Fertin Pharma in January 2017, the strategic focus has been on diversifying the company both in terms of expanding into new geographies and developing new drug delivery platforms.
Headquartered in Vejle, Denmark, Fertin Pharma offers innovative, high-quality pharmaceutical and nutraceutical chewing gum. The chewing gum functions as a delivery platform for active pharmaceutical ingredients (“API”), meaning that it transports pharmaceutical compounds to the body when chewed. Over the last 20 years, Fertin Pharma has primarily focused on Nicotine Replacement Therapy (“NRT”), a pharmaceutical method used for withdrawal management related to smoking cessation. In a world where one in seven smokes, the company has a lot on its plate to achieve its mission, namely to help people all over the world to stop smoking. It is a tough challenge, but definitely a fight worth fighting - at least if you ask EQT.
A broadened focus brings new opportunities
Ahead of acquiring Fertin Pharma in January 2017, EQT had followed the company for many years and was attracted by its strong position in a stable market, its profound knowledge of nicotine and chewing gum as well as the opportunity to grow the core NRT business while exploring new avenues of growth. In particular, expanding into new geographies (e.g. emerging markets) and broadening the drug delivery platform beyond medicated chewing gum were anticipated to present immense possibilities to Fertin Pharma.
Fertin Pharma’s new drug delivery system, named Zapliq®, is an innovative oral delivery platform in the form of a tablet that transform from solid to liquid when chewed. Zapliq® is an extremely convenient delivery format as it requires no water to consume, and hence – is ideal for on-the-go and irregular, but repeat, usage. Furthermore, Zapliq® allows for fast API uptake through the buccal mucosa and the format has strong taste masking capabilities.
The Zapliq® platform can be applied as a delivery system for a broad range of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients and Nutraceutical Ingredients. Initiatives currently being explored include, pain- and migraine blockers, “instant action” sedatives and hypnotics, “on-the-go” anti-diarrhea and cold preparations as well as antihistamines, throat and anti-bacterial pharma, among others. The targeted product clusters have an estimated global retail value of approximately USD 60 billion. Zapliq® represents a new multidimensional growth opportunity of Fertin Pharma.
Rikke Kjær Nielsen, Partner at EQT Partners and Investment Advisor to EQT Mid Market Europe comments: “We are extremely proud of Søren Birn, CEO, and the team at Fertin Pharma, which have managed to convert Zapliq® from concept to large scale production in record time. The Board of Directors made the decision to go all-in on the opportunity less than 15 months ago. Today, we are happy to see the Zapliq® delivery system utilized for a new, large-scale American client with products available in stores across the US. The Fertin Pharma team has not only mastered a new innovative delivery technology, but they have also built a new world class production and packaging facility next to the existing gum manufacturing facilities in Vejle, Denmark. A truly impressive achievement by the team.”
The fight against smoking – a mission on a global scale
While the launch of Zapliq® marks an important milestone in Fertin Pharma’s development, the core of the business remains NRT gum and the ambition to fight smoking globally is only increasing.
In June 2017, Fertin Pharma’s NRT gum manufacturing facility in Goa, India received a GMP regulatory approval from the World Health Organization (“WHO”), meaning that Fertin could now service several emerging markets with NRT products produced at its Indian site. The approval marked an important milestone for the company’s expansion into emerging markets and fortifies its position to meet the demand from a growing middle class primarily in China, India and Brazil, where health-related issues caused by smoking remain a widespread problem.
According to the WHO, around 80% of the world's 1.1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries, and looking ahead, Fertin Pharma expects to benefit from global, health-related mega trends due to increasing government scrutiny of tobacco use and more stringent regulations and bans against smoking. The growing focus on consumer health in emerging markets constitutes a solid foundation for the next wave of Fertin Pharma’s global growth. Together with EQT, Fertin Pharma is poised to execute on its new strategies while continuing to deliver on its mission, helping people all over the world to stop smoking.