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From colossus to startup, the Italian biotech project Galapagos

Galapagos, a Belgian biotech company, has entered the Italian market this year. The company plans to launch a new product and the first one in Italy, through a partnership with Fabbrica italiana sintetici (Fis). The product, called Filgotinib is a drug against rheumatoid arthritis, and will be marketed together with Gilead. The product will be launched by the end of 2021.

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In Europe, Galapagos is a company with a turnover of almost $1.07 billion (€900 million) in 2019, an international biotech player with headquarters in Belgium specialized in the production of drugs against chronic diseases, in particular rheumatological diseases. 

In Italy, on the other hand, Galapagos is a startup, funded in the year of a global pandemic. The implementation of a new headquarters by the Belgian company started in January, and naturally had to face the difficulties related to Covid-19 and lockdown. Preparation for the launch of the first product on the Italian market, however, went ahead, as is the company’s own evolution.

The objective, said Alberto Avaltroni, VP Country Head of Galapagos Biopharma Italy, is to continue to focus on research and innovation, fundamental values for the biotech company. But also to follow the evolution that is bringing what was originally a “laboratory dedicated to the discovery of protein targets underlying diseases, and then to the study and development of small molecules that inhibit these targets”, towards a more “commercial” dimension, that of a company “that wants to launch its products on the territory.” 

The territory often recurs in Avaltroni’s words. Because, he explained, the way of taking care of patients is changing. “The national health system as it is has a center of gravity strongly shifted to hospital care,” he said, “when the hospital was put under stress many patients such as those suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases were left at home. There are even data that said that 40% had to suspend or review their treatment. So “as a company that is entering a rapidly changing market, we are carefully monitoring how the national health system will transform after the emergency, because there may be the greatest need for patients and clinicians there, and that’s kind of our goal: to meet medical needs not yet fully met.”

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Galapagos plans to close a partnership with Fis

Galapagos’s path will probably also pass through collaborations with other companies, especially in widening the range of action to assistance in the territory: “There are many that offer valid solutions, for example on telemedicine, and that could support us in proposals for collaboration with health facilities. Galapagos, said the VP, “wants to present itself as a slightly different startup, which wants to invest in the Italian territory and in Italian excellence. We also have a collaboration for an upcoming product with Fis, Fabbrica italiana sintetici, which will produce an active ingredient for Galapagos at a global level.” This is the company’s approach in the countries where it opens new branches, “it explores the possibility of synergies on the territory that can bring added value to the territory itself, and new business for Galapagos”. 

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In any case, the main cornerstones of the branch will always be innovation and research

“Galapagos has distinguished itself in the past as a biotech leader at European level in research and development. Even now, 75% of the company’s more than one thousand employees are still involved, and we want to continue to invest in this sector. However, the goal is also to become a recognized, reliable and trusted player and to launch successful products in the pharmaceutical market.”

The decision to open in Italy, in this sense, was strategic. “The areas of clinical development that we follow see Italy as one of the countries of excellence in the scientific community. Collaboration with the Italian scientific community is fundamental. In the coming months several of our products will enter clinical development, in phase 2 and phase 3, and several Italian centers will be involved. From this point of view Italy represents, even before a business, an opportunity for drug development. An interesting note is that the development of translational medicine in Galapagos is led by Italians. The excellence of our country is already highly recognized in the company.”

The first product, Filgotinib, will be launched in the “second half of 2021”

Filgotinib is a drug against rheumatoid arthritis, said Avaltroni, and will be marketed together with Gilead, the world biotech giant, which believes a lot in Galapagos: in 2019 it bet $5 billion on the Belgian company. 

“The fact that Gilead believed in Galapagos is indicative of the goodness of the project. In fact in the agreement between the two companies on the one hand there is the expertise of a global pharmaceutical company, with a vision due to the experience in therapeutic innovation that is obviously useful to Galapagos. On the other hand, I believe that Gilead has found in us a pioneering R&D platform that is constantly evolving, a source of new therapies that cover increasingly specific needs”. In short, a situation “of synergy for the two companies.” 

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In the co-commercialization foreseen by the partnership with Gilead on this first product, it is established that in Italy Galapagos will have the rheumatological indications, while Gilead will bring the gastroenteric indications. “We have just received a positive opinion from the CHMP of EMA and we are now awaiting the ratification of the European approval, which should arrive in September.” By the end of 2021, when the new product will be launched, the company will number about 55 Italian employees, said Avaltroni. 

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(Featured image by Walkerssk via Pixabay)

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First published in FORTUNE ITALIA, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.

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Desmond O’Flynn believes in minimalism and the power of beer. As a young reporter for some of the largest national publications, he has lived in the world of finance and investing for nearly three decades. He has since included world politics and the global economy in his portfolio. He also writes about entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as innovation in fintech, gambling, and cannabis industries.