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Servier may be relatively small and opaque compared with its French and multinational pharmaceutical rivals, but it has had a disproportionate impact on its domestic industry.
The company has long preferred to operate away from the public spotlight, but the controversy over its Mediator drug has forced it to become more transparent about its finances and pipeline of future projects.
Privately held by Jacques Servier, the 90-year old founder who remains chief executive and controls it via a Dutch foundation and dozens of subsidiaries, it has traditionally provided scant information on its operations.
Even its new headquarters in Suresnes, in the western suburbs of Paris, has no sign to advertise the presence of the company, which has an extensive network of factories and representative offices around the world.
With both criminal and civil litigation pending over Mediator, it has recently made its accounts more public. The latest filings for Servier SAS, the holding company, for the year to 30 September 2011 show that it made a net profit of €339m on sales of €3.9bn.
The company had cash reserves of €2.2bn, and had made provisions of €260m to cover a variety of potential future costs including the litigation, for which it had also provided €54m in guarantees and security demanded by the courts.
Earlier this year it held a rare media briefing to explain its research and development plans. The move was seen partly as a way to highlight how its activities are far broader than its controversial and now abandoned drug Mediator, which accounted for less than 1 per cent of its sales even at their peak of €27m in 2006. Far more of its sales come from cardiovascular treatments.
Servier’s most advanced experimental drugs in testing are for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases as well as cancer. Though Emmanuel Canet, head of research and development, says it remains interested in rheumatology and diabetes.
Like many rivals, it is placing increased emphasis on biological products and partnerships with academics and biotech companies. Mr Canet says it has 20 new compounds in development, with nine in test in humans and plans to file 10 for regulatory approval over the coming decade.
When asked whether Mediator was a problem raised frequently during negotiations with partners, he said: “Very rarely and only in France. They know us, and make distinction between what is reported in the press and the reality.”
He said the company reinvested more than €750m a year in research, or a quarter of its prescription medicine sales, stressing that it has no need to seek bank loans or external support. “With no dividend to pay, revenues are all reinvested and self financing. The foundation provides us with stability.”
Questions remain over succession and long-term ownership plans for the company. But for now, the feisty Mr Servier is still working hard for his business including preparing for his days – or weeks – in court ahead.