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Servier: one of France’s most remarkable industrial undertakings16/04/2014
Jacques Servier’s passion for pharmaceuticals began in 1954, when, as a young physician and pharmacist, he took over a pharmaceutical production company that was making a medicinal syrup. There were only nine employees, but by the following year Jacques Servier had already marketed his first two drugs. This was the start of one of France’s most remarkable industrial undertakings. Jacques Servier’s eponymous company grew to become the second largest French pharmaceutical group and one of the 30 largest worldwide, ever true to his wish to remain independent of the financial markets so as to be able to plow back earnings into R&D and the business. This is how Servier has regularly produced innovative drugs that are leaders in their therapeutic class.
Servier is one of the largest French exporters. Over 60% of its drugs are produced in France, but 92% of them are prescribed internationally. In 2013 Servier contributed 35% of the French pharma trade surplus.
Loyalty to France
In a keenly competitive sector, Jacques Servier was always determined to keep the company’s R&D (Croissy, Suresnes, Orléans) and production lines (Gidy, Bolbec) in France, where a little over 5000 employees are based, one quarter of Servier’s workforce of 21 000 in 140 countries.
The largest production site is at Gidy, near Orléans, the company’s birthplace, and bears witness to Jacques Servier’s loyalty to his region and to his roots. Gidy’s workforce of one thousand produces treatments for hundreds of thousands of patients suffering from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, rheumatological problems, or cancer.
By founding this exceptional 135-acre site in the 1970s, Jacques Servier wished to create the “antithesis of a 19th-century factory,” by attaching great importance to its employees’ working environment and conditions: “For a company to be successful, everything depends on how its employees feel when working there. We attach huge importance to the people who work for us, without whom we would be nothing, and to their working environment. We want premises that generate a feeling of comfort, of optimism among our employees, not premises that are off-putting.”
The quest for innovative drugs
France excels in the pharmaceutical sector and research is one expression of the French genius. But year after year France is losing touch with this asset instead of doing everything to safeguard and develop it. Jacques Servier was tenacious, combative, and unwavering in his defense of research in France.
There are many unmet medical needs across the globe, and the objectives of the Servier research teams are commensurately ambitious. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, the neurosciences, rheumatology, oncology¾these are the fields where Servier means to find innovative treatments. Each year Servier invests 25% of its turnover—twice the average in the pharma industry—in R&D, with a workforce of 3000. Servier is developing partnerships with major research institutions (CNRS, INSERM, and others), universities, and biotechnology companies, in Europe and worldwide, which have always continued to put their faith in Servier even in the face of adversity.
Independence and pragmatism
To keep up to speed in drug discovery, to respond through innovation to the needs of patients, and to overcome difficulties, Servier has for six decades steadfastly defended its independence from the financial markets. This independence allows Servier to have an edge over competitors when developing its international presence in emerging markets. This contributed to make Servier in the 1990s one of the leaders in the pharma market in Russia, Central Europe, China, and Brazil.
Its independence also allows Servier to pursue ambitious research programs, support novel ideas, and nurture new talents: “a company is a group of human beings, and that has no price. Nor does a profession, because it’s a livelihood.”
Its status as a foundation ensures Servier’s long-term viability
Servier’s exceptional investment in R&D is possible, of course, thanks to the international success of its drugs, but also, and this is what sets it apart, to its status as a foundation. The foundation’s role is to guarantee the sustainability of Servier, its unwavering and strong commitment to research, and its policy not to make dividend payments: As once expressed by Jacques Servier, “More than capital, the pharma industry needs revenue. The greatest expenses are research and payroll costs. So our solution is relatively simple: ever since the company was created, we have plowed all our profits back into research, down to the last cent.”
Research lies at the heart of our profession, but Servier is not lacking in pragmatism. As a pharmaceutical industrialist, Jacques Servier felt it was his duty to make available to patients high-quality generic drugs manufactured in France or in Europe. In 1996, Servier launched its generics subsidiary Biogaran, which quickly became the joint market leader, with one quarter of the market share. More recently, Servier acquired 100% of the Hungarian company Egis, which is a prominent player in the CIS countries with an extensive range of generic drugs.
Admired by some, envied by others, Jacques Servier, despite crises and occasional storms, never countenanced selling or giving up. He was impelled by what he defined as the life force, that ceaseless and mysterious drive towards the “art of the possible.”
*Some quotations are taken from the book of interviews between Dr Jacques Servier and Jacques Marseille, historian and essayist, entitled “Life through Discovery,” published by Editions Perrin in 2007.
Founded in 1954, Servier is an independent French pharmaceutical research company. Its development is based on the continuous pursuit of innovation in the therapeutic areas of cardiovascular, metabolic, neurologic, psychiatric, bone and joint diseases, as well as cancer. In 2013, the company recorded a turnover of 4.2 billion euros.
- 91% of Servier drugs are consumed outside of France.
- 27% of turnover from Servier drugs were reinvested in Research and Development in 2013.
- With a strong international presence in 140 countries, Servier employs more than 21 000 people worldwide.
- The Servier Group contributed 35% to the 2013 French trade surplus in the pharmaceuticals sector.
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