"Currently, almost 100% of the biotechnology products in Turkey are imported and, I believe, in order to be successful in the country, the key is to manufacture important proteins within Turkey. Fill and finish is also an important process that needs to occur in Turkey and will require technology transfer and analytical control methods to be applied."
Could you tell us what led to the founding of CinnaGen Ilac in 2016?
I used to work in leading pharmaceutical companies in Turkey, particularly in chemical manufacturing. Over the last eight years, I noticed a big shift from chemicals to biologicals.
The Turkish biotechnology sector is on the rise and we have excellent chemical manufacturing plants. I created a strong collaboration with CinnaGen, a company that has been in biotechnology for 25 years. I partnered with them for a technology transfer to Turkey because 10 years ago the company wanted to become a leader in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region for biotechnology, and Turkey was the right place to launch that effort. CinnaGen has the largest pipeline for biotechnology worldwide, with 12 products in the market and another 13 products being launched in the next three-to-five years. Our vision is to become one of the top 10 companies in biotechnology worldwide in the next 10 years and to create an international brand for Turkey.
How has the competitive landscape in the biosimilars space evolved in recent years and how do you foresee it shifting in the future?
Currently, almost 100% of the biotechnology products in Turkey are imported and, I believe, in order to be successful in the country, the key is to manufacture important proteins within Turkey. Fill and finish is also an important process that needs to occur in Turkey and will require technology transfer and analytical control methods to be applied. In the last 25 years, CinnaGen has become a creator of its own master cell lines with no dependency on other companies. The most important step in biotechnology is creating the proteins or polypeptides internally, because you can then control the cost of the products. Our team has 30 people working on process optimization and increasing productivity. We are running 5,000-liter bioreactors currently and the capacity of our bioreactors is 35,000 liters overall. In biotechnological products, we are the third largest producer worldwide and we are exporting EUR 50 million worth of product to Russia alone.
How can Turkey improve its ecosystem to attract investment in biotechnology from international and domestic players?
International companies that I have spoken to are reluctant to transfer their know how to Turkey because they have spent a few hundred million dollars on their facilities and clinical trials and do not want to share their proprietary technology. Furthermore, it is not feasible for them to shift their technology manufacturing to Turkey. As a Turkish company, our choice is either to continue importing in large volumes, which is not sustainable in the long-term, or to build our own manufacturing facilities. I would encourage local companies to invest in manufacturing to serve the local market as well as foreign markets through export, which will enable economies of scale.
As CinnaGen, we spend US$600 million for our pipeline of molecules, because you need US$30-US$50 million per molecule in development. This budget is not affordable to most Turkish companies at the moment. Recently, the government started some programs to facilitate projects for clinical trial that are near commercialization. TUBITAK [the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey] used to find the basic science and projects in the beginning, however now they are helping existing projects reach completion. The Turkish market needs time and money to grow.
What is your vision for CinnaGen over the next five years?
My ambition is to create the biggest Turkish brand in biotechnology and a global Turkish pharmaceutical company that is capable of being in the top 10 biotechnology players worldwide. We have the market access and all the other components in place to achieve this goal. Our customers within the MENA region, South America and CIS countries are waiting for our manufacturing hub to become operational. We will be able to start the globalization of our company next year with Turkey being our hub and enabling us to create “Made in Turkey” products. Market authorization is expected in the first quarter of next year and we will aim to register our products across numerous countries.