Chairman, Grupo de Empresas Farmacéuticas Sidus
ACHIEVEMENTS Biosidus, the biotechnology division of Sidus, has pioneered the use of transgenic cows to produce human growth hormones that help children grow and fight cancer, among other applications. With sales of US$40 million and 250 employees in 2007, the company has expanded its efforts to produce genetically modified fruits and vegetables. BACKGROUND At age 17, Argüelles (now 62) joined the family business that was focused on medicine for children with dwarfism symptoms. In the 1980s, Argüelles led the company into biotechnology with its “Pharmaceutical Dairy Barn” project to manufacture drugs using animals, not industrial processes. It was the first to clone a cow in South America.
“[Manufacturing medicines using animals] has a very promising future because it offers an alternative to produce new molecules in large quantities at low cost.”
THE PHARMACEUTICAL DAIRY BARN
Biotechnology firm Biosidus emerged in the 1980s from a 70-year-old, traditional, Argentine pharmaceutical company, Grupo de Empresas Farmacéuticas Sidus. With sales of US$40 million and 250 employees, Biosidus has become the pioneering biotech firm in Latin America through innovative use of transgenic cows to produce human growth hormones. To learn more about its origins and the company’s progress, Latin Trade talks with Sidus Chairman Marcelo Argüelles.
When did the company start and when did you get involved?
Sidus is a family-owned company that just celebrated its 70th anniversary. My father and uncle started the company and it began as a typical Argentine pharmaceutical company, producing products like calcium and cough medicine. At the beginning of the 1980s, the company took the strategic decision to create Biosidus, which today is the star of the group. I have worked all my life in Sidus. I started to work here at 17 years old and now I’m 62. At the beginning, I worked in the marketing area, which was my specialty, but later, with the creation of Biosidus, I shifted to the strategic design of biological and biotechnological integration.
Did you imagine that you would work your entire life in the company?
Yes. I was lucky to work for a number of years with my father, who was my mentor and who taught me everything that I have contributed to this industry. I never thought about other alternatives.
How was Biosidus created?
All pharmaceutical companies, be they small, mid-sized or large, share the objective of integrating toward two areas: pharma-chemistry and biology. Argentina has a very important scientific substratum in biology and we understood that there were opportunities to begin developing in the field of biology, which later became biotechnology. Initially, Biosidus started as the biotechnology area of Sidus, but we realized later that it was going to be necessary to create a different structure for Biosidus.
How is the company positioned in the market?
Right now, I would venture to say that Biosidus is the only company of its kind in Argentina and Latin America.
What is Biosidus’ export strategy?
The company is looking to enter into the principal international markets; in some we have already signed contracts. We are currently exporting 70% of our production, principally to Latin America. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are among our top markets.
We also have an important presence in the Middle East and Asia, in countries like China, India, Thailand, Pakistan and Indonesia.
What type of technology is Biosidus’ developing?
We use traditional technologies of biotechnology production, which are cellular cultures and bacterial fermentation. Biosidus is working on the production of recombinant proteins in transgenic animals. Our transgenic cows of Pampa variety produce human growth hormones in their milk. Our Porteña cows produce bovine growth hormones, while the Patagonia cows produce insulin. [Manufacturing medicines using animals] has a very promising future because it offers an alternative to produce new molecules in large quantities at low cost.
What has been your biggest challenge as head of the company and how have you overcome it?
The principal obstacles have been the macroeconomic situation of our country, the financial-economic difficulties and the lack of risk financing in emerging countries. Biosidus has been financed by a group of pharmaceutical companies. It is also very necessary to have a group of talented people so that we can compete with the big multinational companies.
“Right now, I would venture to say that Biosidus is the only company of its kind in Argentina and Latin America.”
Filed Under: 2008 WINNERS
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