We met at CPHI in Barcelona to discuss how Vetter had coped through the pandemic and what the future looked like.
Press has more than 25 years of experience in product and supply chain management for several industry-leading enterprises but has been with Vetter since 2009.
Vetter is more than 70 years old and remains family-owned. In 1945, honorary senator and pharmacist Helmut Vetter founded the Chemisch-Pharmazeutische Laboratorium Ravensburg GmBH which included a lab, a school for lab technicians, and a drug production facility.
‘It started there and after some years the family started with these outsourcing services – mainly in the syringe business and in the 1980s which was the basis for the business we do today,’ explains Press, ‘the pharmacy still exists in its original place and still has the name Vetter Pharmacy.
‘We got our first FDA approvals in the 80s and started investing in new filling lines, to build what is now our CMO.’
Press explained the company is seeing a growing market which they are preparing for. ‘We see patients out there getting older and older. They have more access to medicine. This results in more injectable demand. We have intensive partnerships with our customers.
‘It's a long-lasting and long-term relationship that we have had over decades. Our clients have asked us for more capacity.’
He said that besides the high-level quality of products they are putting out, the company must have the security of supply at any time.
‘Our patients rely on us to get our products to them, and this is a big task for us, to organize ourselves so that it is possible at any time. Also, during COVID-19 times there was a crisis all over the world, and again it was our task, to make sure we could supply our products. This is why we have now invested further in Germany.’
Press said that from the demand perspective, nothing changed during the pandemic – but there has been a continuous trend and stable or increasing demand.
‘It was regular demand, or even increased demand in extraordinary times, where we had to organize ourselves and we did it very successfully.
‘This means, as a result, there was not a single interruption in our supply chain toward the patient. Not a single one. The entire time even though we had shortages on the material side, the US Defence Production Act was used to handle things in the United States for shipments outside of the US and it became very difficult. We relied on those types of materials, and we needed to continue to manage this. We learned a lot for the benefit of our company, particularly forward-thinking and what we could do to further ensure the security of supply and resilience we need in the supply chain.’
He said clear communication with partners, customers, and patients along with the company’s interpretation of the circumstances they had during Covid times were all valuable lessons to have learned.
‘We got feedback from our customers as we had a very proactive way of communicating. We didn't wait until somebody asked us what was going on, we decided to communicate relatively regularly on our website through a link we send out to our clients and letters every second week or in extraordinary cases or special cases even with more frequency.
‘It was in my opinion, one of the core elements that made our customers happy and got them more security on their supply. We support it and the other big piece is the material supply in the procurement environment. Here, we learned that we have to create smart inventory limits for selected products where you have a long lead time, especially for those parts that are single-source in the United States. One of our biggest tasks in the procurement after Covid was to find sources in Europe. To ensure continued supply in any other crisis that may have come.
‘Maybe I could add a third big piece about our people and employees in the company. It was very important for us to treat them well. And that they were comfortable while working for us during Covid times. You know some of the team could work from home or had to work from home. Others had to come in as you cannot do operator work at home. You have to organize the testing they had to do frequently.’
He said the feedback management received showed they had done a good job and people felt safe and treated well during this time.
There's a lot of activity in this business. But if it comes to competition, really then we see what niche we are in and that will be sometimes a niche of the niche. Our biggest competitor is the in-house production, not other CMOs. In many cases, we are the first choice for clients since we walk the talk do what we say and keep our promises. We would never over-promise and under-deliver.’
The supply chain ends with delivering products to Vetter’s clients and they work with the top 20 big pharmaceutical companies, global companies as well as smaller biotech companies. These companies place the orders and ask Vetter to produce their product.
When completed, the product has the name of the customer on it. There is no Vetter name on it.
‘However, and this is why, for example, we need to give our employees a purpose in their work and the job they do, so we invite patients to our site and let them speak about their experience concentrated on heavy indications, like cancer for example, and without any exception, these types of products are on our portfolio.
‘The company has grown a lot in the last few years. At the moment, we have roughly 6,000 people at Ravensburg. When I started in 2009, it was below 3000 and it's still growing.’
The company has invested €230 million in its new production building which is under construction at HQ in Ravensburg having been started in November 2021.
The shell of the building is complete and 122 meters long, 44 meters wide. It will feature several new commercial filling lines to effectively increase aseptic manufacturing capacity for its global customer base. Vetter plans to install the first cleanrooms by the end of 2024.
The new facility in Germany should employ an additional 500 plus but the company will take a step-by-step approach. They intend to first add the filling lines which will add the first team of people working at the new site. The staffing will grow organically rather than 500 new members of staff starting on one day.
‘Our customers look for flexibility. So, this is one of the tasks we have to prepare an answer for and that is automatization wherever possible. One example is automated visual inspection, as the major steps in our value chain are compounding, filling, visual inspection, as well as assembly and packaging.
‘This is in a nutshell what we do, and we have 100% visual inspection to be done. Every single piece is inspected, and in the past, it was done manually. We have 700-plus people doing nothing but this. That means, they are inspecting the syringe, vial or cartridge and deciding if it’s good or bad and this must be done properly.
‘Now with automated visual inspection lines. We are heavily invested in this, and this is one example. This allows us to provide more flexibility if the customer needs more products, for example.’
With the new facility and staff coming on board, the future is looking bright for Vetter.
The company will continue to supply patients all over the world with medicines, many of which are vital while providing support from drug product development through clinical and commercial filing to assembly and packaging services for vials, syringes, and cartridges. It also develops prefilled drug delivery systems together with its customers.