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Billionaire-owned SHL Medical makes injectors for drugs like Ozempic

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Billionaire-owned SHL Medical makes injectors for drugs like Ozempic

SHL Medical started making medical devices in 1989 from a single factory in Taiwan. Now the company is poised to grab a share of the booming weight-loss drug market.

By means of Giacomo TogniniForbes staff


The ran away with success of weight-loss drugs took the markets by storm last year, delivering huge stock gains for drugmakers like Novo Nordisk, which makes Wegovy and Ozempic. Most patients take them at home in weekly injections, using plastic, pen-like devices known as auto-injectors, filled with the liquid drug and fitted with a small needle as wide as two human hairs.

As demand for the drugs increases, so does the need for those devices. That growth has now created a new billionaire: Roger Samuelsson, the 60-year-old Swedish co-founder of Switzerland-based SHL Medical, one of the world’s largest auto-injector manufacturers. Forbes estimates he is worth $3 billion, thanks in large part to his 69% stake in the company he co-founded in 1989. The remaining 31% is owned by Swedish private equity firm EQT – which has minted seven billionaires over the years – and Athos, the family office of the billionaire Struengmann brothers. The press-shy Samuelsson, who has declined multiple interview requests, also likes fast cars (he raced in the 2016 Ferrari Challenge series) and owns the 130-meter megayacht Octopus, which he bought in 2021; the yacht was built for its first owner, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (died 2018).

SHL Medical makes injectors for medications that treat everything from multiple sclerosis to asthma and psoriasis. Twenty of the world’s 25 largest pharmaceutical companies – including giants Novo Nordisk, Amgen and Pfizer – use the company’s products, as do a host of smaller biotech startups, according to documents reviewed by Forbes. 90% of the company’s revenue comes from auto-injectors, where it controls 25% of the global market.

“They are single-use devices that hold the drug, you take off the cap and inject yourself,” says Ulrich Fässler, CEO of SHL Medical, as he demonstrates one of the company’s products: a sleek, cylindrical injector called “Molly “. which resembles a whiteboard marker – in a video call from his office in Zug, Switzerland. (Another is called “Maggie”; the company says they are simply names to remember.) “When Roger started in the early 1990s, he thought single-use autoinjectors could transform drug delivery. It took thirty years, but we succeeded. We are the fastest growing company in the industry.”

Born and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson studied engineering in the southern city of Linköping and was an avid boxer in his youth. When he noticed that all his boxing gloves were made in Taiwan, he decided to visit the island in 1983, when he was twenty years old. He toured factories and began shipping gloves, bathroom pegs and rehabilitation equipment for the elderly to Sweden.

“I looked at a lot of different things, from connectors and cables to basically anything that would be profitable,” Samuelsson said. Dragon news in 2010. “After visiting several times, I loved the energy and excitement of the place and decided to spend more time there.”

He moved permanently to Taiwan in 1988 and started SHL Medical the following year, together with his business partner Martin Jelf. Their first big break came in 1994 when they landed a deal to make injectors for the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based pharmaceutical company Upjohn (now part of Pfizer). Samuelsson bought Jelf’s stake in 2004 and decided to double the number of auto-injectors. In 2006, he contracted with Amgen to produce them for Enbrel, a biologic drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis.

“We have actually made home administration possible,” says Fässler, who joined the company in 2010 and led the company’s operations in Taiwan. “That was the starting point where this industry took off.”

The company also spent heavily on technology, investing in machines to automate production more than twenty years ago. SHL Medical now has robots that seamlessly build, assemble and then inspect every part of its auto-injectors to ensure quality – all tailor-made for each individual customer.

“They are by far a technology leader,” said Andreas Aschenbrenner, partner at EQT and member of the board of directors of SHL Medical. ‘We used to have one [automation] company that wanted to sell a machine to Roger. They came back and said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this in our entire lives.'”

Fässler took over as CEO in January 2018, while Samuelsson remained as the company’s majority shareholder. That same year, the company completed a new 60,000 square meter factory in Taiwan and moved its headquarters to Switzerland. Two years later, EQT acquired a 31% stake from Samuelsson and two smaller investors who cashed in on the deal, paying more than $400 million, according to Luxembourg filings.

In 2022, the Struengmann brothers – best known for their backing of BioNTech, the biotech company that partnered with Pfizer to create one of the first Covid-19 vaccines – bought a portion of EQT’s stock. SHL Medical now has 6,000 employees across manufacturing, design and assembly facilities in China, Mexico, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US, where it first opened a design center in Florida in 2004.

When EQT first invested in SHL Medical in 2020, it valued the company at $2.1 billion. By the end of 2022, that had risen to $3.4 billion – a return of 61% in just two years. “It is the market leader in a very important niche,” says Aschenbrenner, referring to the auto-injector market.

That niche is about to get much bigger thanks to skyrocketing sales of Ozempic and Wegovy, part of a category called GLP-1 agonists, named after the hormone they target. Fässler estimates that these medicines will account for almost a third of SHL Medical’s total revenues and almost 50% of its production volume by 2027, compared to less than a third today. Much of the rest comes from biologics, a class of complex drugs produced using living cells or microorganisms, which help treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Total revenues for drug delivery systems – including auto-injectors, pens and inhalers – were estimated at $2.1 billion at the end of 2022 and are expected to grow 10% annually to $3.2 billion by 2027, according to an analysis by the exchange-traded Stevanato Group. . Drugs like Ozempic will increase that growth even further. By 2023, 61% of all therapies recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required injectors, up from 46% in 2014.

“If you take obesity and diabetes out of the equation, the rest of the market will grow 10% to 15% anyway,” Aschenbrenner says. “If you factor obesity into the equation, it’s an incredibly good market. you would do it [include] vaccines, it’s an incredible market.”

SHL Medical isn’t alone in pursuing the growing auto-injector market. Stevanato Group, majority owned by the billionaire Stevanato family, supplies syringes used in injectors for Eli Lilly’s weight-loss and diabetes drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound. Switzerland-based Ypsomed – founded by billionaire Willy Michel – announced in September an agreement to supply auto-injectors for Novo Nordisk. And Novo Nordisk’s parent company announced a $16.5 billion deal in February to acquire drug packaging company Catalent, boosting Wegovy’s supply to meet skyrocketing demand.

“There is a desperate attempt to increase capacity,” said Paul Knight, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets. David Windley of Jefferies added: “Lilly and Novo can move whatever volume they can get into the market. They are busy gobbling up capacity.”

Despite the competition, there is more than enough business for SHL Medical to do. “It’s not a problem at all,” says Aschenbrenner, pointing to the Catalent acquisition. “We have a very good partnership with Novo and it is very important that the supply chain works.”

SHL Medical is ramping up production to meet that new demand: it plans to make 750 to 850 million autoinjectors per year by 2028, up from the current volume of about 300 million. And it is investing heavily to make that happen, acquiring a Swiss automation company last July and a plastic injection mold manufacturer in North Carolina in January. A new $200 million factory in South Carolina will open this summer, and another $100 million factory will open in Switzerland in 2026.

Although he is no longer CEO and not involved in day-to-day operations, Samuelsson now lives in Switzerland and remains the company’s largest shareholder. “Roger’s mantra is: look around you very carefully, listen very carefully, think long and then execute like crazy,” says Aschenbrenner. “Everything can be improved anytime, anywhere.”

Back in his office in Zug, Fässler pulls out an example of one of the company’s newest products: an auto-injector that emits a signal when the cap is removed, informing a doctor that the patient has taken the dose. “You lift it off, that means it’s activated. Our data goes straight to the cloud,” he says.

Fässler and Aschenbrenner foresee a near-term future in which many more medicines – from vaccines to cancer therapies – can be taken at home. “We are working on a solution for oncology treatment by the end of this decade,” says Fässler. Aschenbrenner added: “Imagine a world where you can deliver vaccines in a delivery device that doesn’t require a doctor.”

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