ProBioGen AG – Biopharmaceuticals for Tomorrow
This is an exciting time for ProBioGen as the company undergoes growth, diversification and works on its “factory of the future”.
ProBioGen is a mid-size biotech enterprise with headquarters in Berlin and operations on an international scale. For 27 years, the company has been specialising in the development and manufacture of active biopharmaceutical ingredients and vaccines as well as in the creation of innovative technologies. When we speak with Dr. Lutz Hilbrich, CEO of ProBioGen AG and its subsidiary MiGenTra GmbH, the company has 221 staff, with 15 more recruits lined up to join over the next three months.
“We have two locations in Berlin, our headquarters, and another facility a ten-minute walk away,” Hilbrich says. “At both locations, our employees are contributing to the development of new therapies and medicines, with ground-breaking global innovation. That was particularly visible during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The company achieves their results by combining state-of-the-art biopharmaceutical services and the continuous development of smart proprietary technologies to further optimise product properties.
“It is something not often seen in the market,” Hilbrich emphasizes. “Especially in the last seven years we’ve enjoyed steady growth, and since being CEO at ProBioGen, we’ve been focusing on diversification.”
ProBioGen offers intelligent biopharmaceutical solutions.
“When I joined the company, I learned quickly that this isn’t just our claim. Among others, it’s the feedback we get from our customers and clients who value our excellent scientific foundation, combined with intelligent services and technologies,” Hilbrich explains. “We can individualise and tailor unique solutions for our clients. Customers will come to us saying they want a solution that will meet specific needs, and because of our reputation in the market, they believe we can do it.”
These solutions can be complemented with our patent-protected technologies such as GlymaxX® and DirectedLuck™. As an efficient gene delivery system, ProBioGen’s transposase DirectedLuck increases the production levels of the desired proteins (e. g. antibodies). The globally proven front-runner GlymaxX enhances the therapeutic function by increasing the antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). As you can see, the manufacturing of high-quality biologics is a complex endeavour and ProBioGen is an experienced and internationally well-known player in this field. As for the next generation of clients’ biologics, they will be produced at the highest quality requirements in what ProBioGen calls “the factory of the future”.
ProBioGen’s Factory of the Future
“This is an undertaking in progress. We’ve called it the factory of the future this last couple of years because there’s a huge demand for the production of innovative molecules,” Hilbrich says. “It’s forward-looking, that’s what we want to get across. It is not all about a greenfield project that could be built with an end-to-end, integrated facility with modular elements: it is also about using existing capacities intelligently and flexibly to meet customers’ demand. Based on this we will have more mobility, serving more clients and offering more flexibility.”
One of the few hints for improvement ProBioGen gets from its clients is its geographic distance. Clients want ProBioGen to grow alongside their businesses, and this is a desire that ProBioGen shares, and pursues as it has evolved.
“Automation and digitalisation are important hallmarks of our strategy, as is our ecological footprint,” Hilbrich points out. “Even though only 0.01% of the total plastic waste generated annually worldwide stems from single use technologies, this is still a lot and we strive to further reduce this. If you could half this with the science behind it: this could be a strategy. We ask, ‘Could this disposable be reusable?’ and the answer is often ‘Not in the way they’re built nowadays’, but we want to come up with innovative approaches to change that.”
As well as keeping tools and techniques up to date, the expansion of the company itself has been a challenge, particularly based in a location as urbanised as Berlin.
“The company is founded and incorporated, and committed to growing in Berlin, but it is a capital city and there aren’t many greenfield sites,” Hilbrich tells us. “We’re where people are living, so expansion was a big challenge.”
This expansion has been aided by ProBioGen’s purchase by the Minapharm Pharmaceuticals Group, a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer in Egypt in 2010. Through that acquisition, ProBioGen was able to open a second location in Berlin.
“We had the money and the perspective for the company to continue as it was built,” Hilbrich says. “We also acquired our own property and built more capacity.”
The Biggest Asset
This growth has been powered by its people, who Hilbrich calls ProBioGen’s “biggest asset”.
“We treat each other very respectfully, driven by our family values. We don’t call our personnel department HR, we deliberately call it People and Organizational Development and our employees are our ‘ProBioGeniuses’, because it’s about people, not human resources,” Hilbrich insists. “We want to personalise it a bit more, demonstrating equality in a transparent environment. Just recently, we signed the German diversity charter, a campaign to issue diversity and tolerance as well as to foster the commitment to an unprejudiced and appreciative organizational culture.”
It is a process Hilbrich is particularly proud of.
“We started with the question ‘How do we treat people?’ and this works for people acquisition and people management,” he says. “The person and their personality are at the centre of whom we recruit, and the personality shouldn’t be left behind once they’re in the building.”
ProBioGen has strong connections with local universities, which serves as a channel for young talents, and recruits and develops talents with a very hands-on approach. It is particularly suited to the Millennial and Generation-Z mindset.
“It’s always very relaxed, not the stereotypically German attitude you might expect to see, and people like it, particularly young people,” Hilbrich underlines. “They’re more interested in the environment. Money and title aren’t everything anymore, it’s about work-life balance. It is important people feel comfortable. We are working in that direction more and more while investing in training and education initiatives.”
ProBioGen’s people demonstrated what was important to them as it encountered the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We were required to come up with creative ideas to ensure the security of the business, its supply chain and the availability of consumables,” Hilbrich recalls. “Very early on we established a Covid task force and allowed people to work from home before it was mandated. The IT department was instrumental because they had a lot of work to do to make working from home possible. We established a medical unit where we can perform tests and if someone is infected or not, I can test them on-site and afterwards take the appropriate measures. We also established a facility to vaccinate on site.”
The Next Decade
Talking to Hilbrich, his priorities for the company’s future are clear.
“Growth, growth and growth again,” he laughs. “We’re growing steadily and are additionally focusing on diversification. This expansion has been powered by our biggest asset: our employees. We are very strong protein builders thanks to our efficient processes, and with increasing demand from our customers to stick with us for more and more projects we want to expand capacity wise. We want to double our capacity.”
The company recently incorporated its subsidiary, a healthcare transforming medicines developer MiGenTra and is now going into product development with a focus on the African continent, and the digital frontier.
“We are diversifying into product development and product launching and commercialisation, working alongside the ideas coming out of the World Health Organisation and the International Finance Corporation,” Hilbrich informs us. “Last but not least and indispensable for us is the digital transformation. We believe that this is the future of the company. It’s clear to us that international operating companies have to be digitised.”