Interview with Michel Feraud, President of Provepharm
A researcher who wants to find himself
Michel Feraud was a young student of organic chemistry at the Université Saint-Jérôme in Marseilles when it clicked: “I considered chemistry to be like Lego® where molecules could be transformed into medicines to cure.” In 1997, armed with their doctorates, Michel Feraud and his childhood friend, Christophe Baralotto, decided to start their company — without capital — which would in time become Provepharm Life Solutions. “Even if we had no idea what we were going to do, we knew exactly where we were going to do it, that is, all over the world.”
The company began by offering its services to other laboratories such as L'Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and even Aventis. At the same time, it looked to investors, while ensuring that its shareholders remained independent. “We financed, for example, through convertible bonds*, contrary to the practices of the time. We therefore managed to preserve the majority of our capital." In 2018, the Tethys fund of the Bettencourt family and ArchiMed — the first independent European funds dedicated to this sector — also contributed to the capital. And Michel Feraud and Christophe Baralotto still hold 67% of the shares.
(*) Type of bonds offering a right of conversion into shares.
Reinventing methylene blue
In 2007, Provepharm Life Solutions reinvented a decidedly vintage remedy, methylene blue. The molecule, discovered in 1876, has many antiseptic and antioxidant qualities.
But, because it contains some potentially toxic heavy metals, its therapeutic use has been progressively phased out and banned. By patenting a process that eliminates these heavy metals, the company re-created methylene blue under the name Provayblue®, and with it, developed a new antidote against severe blood poisoning. In country after country, the national drug agencies gave marketing authorisation for this regenerated molecule. “It all started with France in 2010, and today we have a presence in nearly 35 countries.” The most recent marketing authorisations were obtained in the United States.
“In 2016, we secured a sevenyear agreement for the exclusive commercialisation of Provayblue® by obtaining an orphan drug designation. As a responsible company, this agreement requires us to ensure that products are always available throughout the United States — which is normal. For this purpose, we have a strategic stock of 200,000 units in the United States. That represents a six months’ treatment supply, proof that we are 100% patient oriented. It is unthinkable that someone has to do without their therapy because a laboratory has not been able to manage their supply chain or, much worse, has made unreasonable profits through financial arbitrage.”
Innovation at the heart of company philosophy
If Provepharm Life Solutions' R&D teams are doing so well, it's probably because shareholders and management give them time to work their magic. “At Provepharm Life Solutions, we have a real desire to encourage the entrepreneur within all our employees. In a world in search of purpose, we want to give meaning to intelligence and, above all, we want to avoid sheep-like behaviour. I am convinced that companies need to carry a core message with them. Ours is that there is a third way between biotechs and generic specialists, i.e. reinventing molecules with prior therapeutic virtues, making them compatible with the very strict specifications of modern health agencies.”
€42.5 million to accelerate growth
The creation of a new 3,000 m2 production unit in Marseilles, an investment of €9 million and the establishment of a new subsidiary in the United States are all signs that underline the fast-paced development of Provepharm Life Solutions.
Its turnover increased by 27% in one year to €38 million by the end of 2018. To support its new projects, the company has just obtained a syndicated credit* of €42.5 million.
From research against malaria to committed social responsibility
Among other ongoing research, Provepharm Life Solutions is working on a treatment for malaria, that is already supported by the US Army. Size is certainly an issue.
According to WHO, this disease killed 429,000 people in 2015, with nearly 212 million recorded cases worldwide. Their strategy? No Gain, No Loss. “We are not driven by earnings, but we do not want to lose money either.” To speed up its R&D, the company therefore relies on nurturing the talents of their employees, an international cast hailing from over ten different countries, worldwide. At the same time, diversity is particularly close to their hearts. For example, women make up the majority of the workforce and three women sit on the board of directors. To conclude this interview, Michel Feraud also wished to mention one of the key factors of his success.
“Regardless of a person's profession or their sector of activity, I think it's important to dare to use common sense. This third way is full of opportunities for both business and people. And above all, it creates societal value that can be shared by all.” In this area, Michel certainly knows what he is talking about.
(*) Loan granted by several banks to the same company.