Back To Top

149-year-old biopharma supplier Sartorius eyes expansion in Korea

GOTTINGEN, Germany -- Behind the market expansion of Samsung’s biologics business is 149-year-old Sartorius, the German firm that has helped it grow rapidly.

Founded in 1870, the German company supplies single-use bags and membrane filters on top of many other items that biopharmaceutical firms need to produce cell cultures.

As of end-2018, Sartorius had 15 trillion won ($12.95 billion) market capitalization, with offices in over 60 locations in the world and some 8,800 staff. Most of its revenue came from Europe (42 percent) and the Americas (33 percent), but now it is looking to expand its facilities in Korea as Asia grows in importance for the industry.

Rene Faber, a member of the executive board at Sartorius Group (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Rene Faber, a member of the executive board at Sartorius Group (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

At the moment, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 25 percent of Sartorius’ sales revenue, but because the Asia-Pacific region is a market where Sartorius still has room to grow, the company’s on-year sales revenue jumped the most here, by 21.5 percent, while in the Americas it grew 14.7 percent and in Europe 12.7 percent.

“The strongest growth we enjoyed this year was in Asian market and particularly in two regions which are Korea and China,” said Rene Faber, a board member of the company.

The biologics industry is challenging and inefficient, with perhaps 1 out of 10,000 drug candidates making it to the commercial market, requiring some 10 years to develop. And time equals money.

“Sartorius focuses on developing and bringing medication faster to the market and manufacturing the drugs in a more efficient way,” said Faber. “We consider this as a very inefficient way of working and focus all our activities to help our clients improve that, from faster identification of the candidate, and all the processes from the lab to manufacturing process.

“The lab products and services division focuses more on early stage drug discovery, whereas the bioprocess solution division focuses on process development starting from cell line development and manufacturing.”

Sartorius does all this through premium lab tools and bioanalytical systems that accelerate drug development, such as live-cell analysis devices, high-throughput cell screening devices, lab water systems, balances, pipettes, lab filtration, microbial analysis and fluid management.

As an advocate and producer of single-use solutions, Sartorius says they are the most cost-efficient and flexible for companies that manufacture products in small batches -- something that contract development organizations such as Samsung BioLogics are increasingly called upon to do.

“Single-use is a trend where the manufacturing is getting smaller and facilities are becoming more flexible,” said Faber.

Sartorius forecasts that the market penetration of single-use system biologics will increase from 35 percent to 75 percent in the near future.

In Asia, Sartorius currently has a single-use manufacturing base in Beijing and another manufacturing site in Bangalore, India, which focuses more on stainless steel.

The company’s first Asian subsidiary was founded in 1987 in Japan, followed by offices in South Korea in 1990, India in 1994 and China in 1996.

Sartorius Korea owns a lab facility that provides filter validation and viral clearance services. Currently, it is expanding its facility here to offer cell banking manufacturing and contract research services, which will be available soon.

Sartorius Korea is contemplating building a manufacturing facility for high-value-added products in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province, where key customers like Samsung BioLogics are clustered, Faber said. Plans to expand its logistics center are also being considered.

Sartorius continues to expand its business portfolio to cover all key manufacturing steps of bioproduction through acquisitions that are complementary.

“We don’t acquire another piece of technology we already have just to increase the market share, but we look at complementary additions highly relevant to our clients’ efforts to speed up their development and manufacturing,” said Faber.

Sartorius’ business path is marked by innovation. The first product from the company was a short-beam analytical balance. Its stretch to biopharmaceutical solutions began almost 60 years after the company’s foundation following a joint venture with Nobel laureate Richard Zsigmondy in 1927, who added membrane filters to its product portfolio.

Balances (scales) and membranes are the two main pillars of Sartorius’ business.

The smallest membrane filter produced by Sartorius resembles something between a very fat ring and a child’s bracelet, and is estimated to cost a couple of hundred euros ($220). The longer filter, about 1.5 meters, could cost a couple of thousand euros.

These filters are used in every step of laboratory drug development, to filter the cell soup and for anything that goes in to the bioreactor tank be it the media, the air or any ingredient. For one batch, perhaps around 50 to 60 membrane filters are used.

“Since 20 years, we have focused our business very strongly on the biopharma market. One of our strengths, or advantage, is that we focus only on that specific market. You can say it’s a very niche market, but very dynamic and very demanding in terms of speed and service levels,” Faber said.

Sartorius envisions sales of 4 billion euros by 2025.

By Lim Jeong-yeo, Korea Herald correspondent (