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Foreign Big Pharma firms opening sites in Phila. area

Philadelphia-area pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical-device companies send pills, proteins, and devices all over the world, but foreign companies also continue to send their people here to set up shop so they can sell products and services to local consumers and businesses.

GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Teva, and AstraZeneca are among the foreign Big Pharma outfits which years ago established U.S. operations in this neighborhood.

Claremont Medical (France), Popsi Cube (France), Enzybel International (Belgium), and Hycult Biotech (Netherlands) are a few of the companies that arrived in the last year, and some started with a single person.

Popsi Cube is based near Paris, and its clients are other pharmaceutical and device manufacturers that need to run clinical trials or have computer-software needs related to collecting data for trials.

"All of that is a lot of legwork," Popsi Cube North American president and chief executive officer Guy Maestre said. "Merck or Glaxo are big enough to do all of that themselves if they want, but they have found it effective to outsource that to a clinical research organization. We have all of that ready. We offer a menu of options."

The data can be collected via electronic computer programs, iPads, and even a PopsiPen.

Maestre started here in October and works out of his home office near Plymouth Meeting because he is the lone local employee. A "virtual" staff at the European headquarters helps, but his first few months have been spent establishing the company and making his first round of calls to generate business.

"If I meet someone today and they have a trial next week, I'm too late," Maestre said. "If it's next year, then it's too early for them. I want to be there when they are planning to start trials in four or five months."

Maestre said Popsi Cube has offices with about 25 people at its headquarters near Paris and an office in Tunisia. As business develops here, he said, the company might add up to 15 employees in the next year or so, with corresponding office space.

Popsi Cube decided to expand to North America because most of the world's pharmaceutical and biotech businesses operate here and often want U.S. consumers involved in trials. As for choosing a U.S. site, Popsi Cube considered San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia.

The longer airline flight and greater difference in time zones between San Francisco and Paris eliminated the Bay Area from the competition.

"Boston is very rich in early biotech start-ups," Maestre said. "But more of the mature pharma companies are closer to here, the ones with midstage products, and that's when trials occur. A young, out-of-the-gate biotech is five years from clinical trials. Most of the big pharma companies are within driving distance from here, there are sophisticated academic centers, and there is also a nice pool of early biotech companies, which might be clients in a few years. There are nonstop flights to France from Philadelphia."

Claremont Medical is a subsidiary of the Ballina Capital group, and its main product is a dental laser. Blandine Chantepie, the U.S. director of sales and business development, said her company had similar geographical reasons for picking Philadelphia.

"I had already fallen in love with Philadelphia," said Chantepie, who grew up north of Paris but was here for two years while working for Enterprise Rhône-Alpes International (ERAI), the international business-development agency of the Rhône-Alpes region of France. Lyon is the region's capital. The agency assists French companies interested in expanding to the United States and U.S. companies looking at that part of France. It created a Philadelphia office in 2009 at the Science Center.

Chantepie was assigned to help Claremont assess the potential for selling lasers, for use in treating gum disease and doing root canals, to U.S. dentists. Then the company hired her.

She said she thought more dentists than doctors still run their own businesses, so there are more individual sales vs. selling multiple medical devices to a hospital. And space in a dental office matters, which is why she thinks she might have more success in Philadelphia and its suburbs than in New York.

In the early stages, Chantepie is arranging to show the equipment at dental trade shows, establishing a network of independent sales representatives and helping dentists learn how to use lasers.

In photographs, the laser machine does not look all that Space Age, indeed more like dental equipment, about 32 inches by 21 inches by 18 inches. The wand does not look any scarier than most dental instruments. But is it easier on the ears than those shrill sounding drills that dentists say they hate using on you but you are never quite sure?

"The sound is better," Chantepie said.

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing