Jump to content
Powered by

Cellca geared for further growth following acquisition by Sartorius

Sartorius Stedim Biotech (SSB), a leading international supplier to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, acquired Laupheim-based Cellca GmbH on 1st July 2015. Walter Pytlik talked to Cellca CEO Hugo de Wit, who has been at the helm of the company since 2010, the first two years jointly with Dr. Aziz Cayli, about the background to the change of ownership and the consequences it will have.

Hugo de Wit - CEO of Cellca GmbH © Cellca GmbH

What motivates an international company such as Sartorius to acquire a small company like Cellca with a workforce of just 30 people?

Companies like Sartorius are always looking for something they do not have in their own product portfolio, something that is dynamic and has a successful future ahead of it. Sartorius wants to increase the appeal of its product portfolio and client services in order to be able to offer attractive packages and become a solution provider. Cellca holds the intellectual property rights for fully chemically defined cell culture media and also owns a technology platform for the industrial production of proteins. With the acquisition of Cellca, Sartorius can further expand its service offering to include process development, which is why it finds the small company highly attractive.

Let's have a quick look at the company's history. How did Cellca become what it is today?

Cellca spent the first five years after establishment on the research and development of a technology platform. From 2010 to 2012, we were specifically focused on product development. The elements of the technology were assembled into final products which we could then sell to our customers. We offer three products and services: we develop cell lines on behalf of clients at our company site in Laupheim on a fee-for-service basis, we license our technology platform to other parties, and we also sell cell culture media. We have been commercialising these products and services since 2012, and have been growing exponentially ever since.

Now that Cellca has been acquired by Sartorius, would you say that it has achieved its goal?

Yes and no. In 2005, Cellca was founded and managed by Aziz Cayli, it entered a strategic partnership with Rentschler Biotechnologie and it had investment capital from the Chancenkapitalfonds of Kreissparkasse Biberach and KfW. All these stakeholders gave the company the time and space it needed to develop. The company's major focus initially was the development of a technology platform, rather than a customer base. However, since 2012, we've had a growing international customer base. The company has also grown and now has a staff of over 30. All this makes it more important to secure further financial support and boost internationalisation. In 2014, Rentschler Biotechnologie dropped out as a strategic partner, a move that both Cellca and Rentschler see as a sign of success. Although we are still working together, we've been without a strategic partner since then. Cellca is a technology company and technologies have a relatively short half-life. This meant that we had to act quite quickly in order not to lose out on what we have achieved.

The reason I said no is because we have just completed a major development phase. But we are a long way from achieving our final goal, which is continuing to grow and develop the technology on our own. And we also want to attract more customers. We hope that the acquisition by Sartorius will speed up many of our plans.

Who was instrumental in the acquisition?

The services of the upstream specialist are highly sought-after by international pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. © Cellca GmbH

It was in the two companies' mutual interests. Cellca was looking for a new, strong strategic partner. Our investors Kreissparkasse Biberach and KfW had been supporting us for well over ten years. For Kreissparkasse Biberach, the acquisition was interesting because we had reached a good size and the time was therefore ripe to sell its long-term stake in Cellca. The acquisition gave Sartorius access to a young innovative company with interesting products that overlapped in many exciting ways with its own portfolio. And for Cellca, Sartorius' market presence and branding will certainly have a positive effect on our business activities. I believe that Sartorious will give just the support Cellca needs in order to develop its business further.

Could Cellca have managed on its own? Did you have any other options?

The nice thing about our situation was that we did not act under pressure. It was clear right from the beginning that Cellca GmbH would continue as an independent company as far as possible.

What will change now? Will Cellca stay in Laupheim?

Nothing much will change. Our staff and management team will remain the same, and we will also stay in Laupheim. Sartorius was interested in keeping the team right from the outset. Whether we will still be on the Rentschler campus in five years' time is another issue. But we intend to stay in the region. We have excellent cooperative ties with Biberach University of Applied Sciences. We are embedded in an excellent environment, and there is no reason to leave the area. Our current company site, close to Teva, Boehringer and Rentschler, is also interesting for Sartorius. As things stand now, Cellca's corporate architecture will not change. This was very important for me personally. I did not want to see the last five and a half years of work go down the drain. It's another reason why Sartorius is an interesting partner for us. The acquisition gives us the chance to come under the umbrella of a strategic and highly active parent company and grow further.

Aziz Cayli founded the company in 2005; he had the ideal upstream technology platform in mind. Has this goal been reached?

Yes, definitely. You can tell from our large number of clients in California, Japan and Australia who commission us for cell line development. Our clients in the biotech and pharma sectors use our services because our platform is very good.

Does the acquisition have any consequences for your clients?

Yes, our clients will also benefit from the acquisition. The acquisition will give them the opportunity to use other Sartorius services. Sartorius has also acquired the Scottish company BioOutsource, a protein analytics specialist. Sartorius can thus offer cell line development and protein analytics services. And this is very interesting for our clients. Another interesting aspect of our acquisition by Sartorius is that cell media are now produced in the same group of companies as cell lines. So we can offer everything from a single source. This makes things, including communication, a lot easier and speeds up the processes.

So you offer everything from DNA sequences to upscaling?

Yes. But always related to development. Sartorius does not want to become a contract manufacturing organisation (CMO). And this is why the acquisition will not lead to any changes for Cellca's clients and partners. They can continue to purchase good cell lines, good protein technology, and now they will also have access to analytical services. The product and service portfolio is now broader. And there is another thing that is very important for us. With Sartorius at our side, Cellca will now have access to new financial resources, production facilities and investment.

With the acquisition of Cellca, the new owner must have specific expectations. Can you disclose anything about Sartorius' plans?

We will continue as before. The plan is that Cellca retains its dynamics, that it will continue to grow, acquire more clients and work with Sartorius' protein analytics and media production departments, which will complement our portfolio perfectly. These are the initial stipulations. In concrete terms, it means that Sartorius is aiming to double its sales by 2020. And Cellca is expected to provide its share of this.

What about Cellca's future profile? How will it be integrated into the group?

Administrative functions such as finances, IT and HR processes will be integrated into the group. Cellca will use Sartorius' worldwide locations to expand rapidly on a global level. It is also important that we do not become part of a specific department, but that we are able to take the next development steps relatively independently. I will report directly to the board of directors.

What milestones does Cellca want to achieve in the near future?

Market permitting, we would like to double our capacity. This does not mean that we will double our workforce, but we would like to hire an additional 10 to 20 people. Cellca's primary goal is to become one of the leading suppliers of pharmaceutical protein technology services. Our objective is to provide the technology, and be active in marginal fields such as analytics, and later maybe also purification. But as I said, not as a producer, but as a provider of the technology required to do all this.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/cellca-geared-for-further-growth-following-acquisition-by-sartorius