A conversation with the Managing Director of Seqens Innovation and Generic Pharmaceuticals (I&GP) North America

Spotlight on Seqens I&GP NA’s Managing Director Bob Huang

by | Oct 6, 2022 | Articles

Seqens, an integrated global leader in pharmaceutical synthesis and specialty ingredients with 24 industrial sites, 10 R&D centers, and 3,200 employees located on three continents, appointed Bob Huang as Managing Director of Seqens Innovation and Generic Pharmaceuticals (I&GP) North America, in June 2021.  He is responsible for the company’s North American business and is based in the company’s Newburyport, Mass. site.

 Bob has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry. In his over 20 years at Sanofi prior to joining Seqens, he had increased responsibilities from Chemical Development in R&D and API Contract Manufacturing within Industrial Affairs before taking on a business development and licensing role as Senior Director of US External Collaborations, leading the US team in support of Sanofi’s global external partnership strategy. With a PhD in organic chemistry and MBA training, he has broad technical, business and management experience in pharmaceutical development, manufacturing, and commercial operations.

Why did you join Seqens?

It was a great opportunity for several reasons. 

First, after working sequentially in R&D, manufacturing, and business development at Sanofi, this was an opportunity to combine all that experience, including commercialization and operations, and have a broader scope of responsibility.  

 Second, meeting the challenges of the global supply chain, bringing GMP manufacturing back to the US is a huge task, but also a massive opportunity to be at the forefront of that trend.

 As well, I was impressed with Seqens’ strong commitment to innovation. They are not shy about investing in new technologies and new facilities, including an over $5M expansion of the R&D facility in Devens, MA. 

 In the year you’ve been in place, are these opportunities as real as they seemed a year ago? 

 Definitely. We have a number of opportunities for a long-term business partnership in key areas of specialization. However, you have to adapt your strategy and conduct an in-depth analysis of the organization to define the short- and long-term focus. That entailed taking advantage of transforming the legacy organization to become a part of a global CDMO leader. The past year has been spent putting these things into place, while making sure to close the gaps from technical and operational aspects. 

 What do you see as Seqens’ strengths?

Seqens is a leader in innovation & science in manufacturing chemical ingredients. As a result, we can offer more efficient, cutting-edge technologies that save our worldwide customers time and money. We are also on top in terms of operations, which is helped by Seqens’ flat organizational structure where everyone feels empowered. Thanks to our open lines of communication, employees here have visibility on strategies, are involved and more productive.  It’s a winning company culture, where everyone contributes, everyone can make a difference. 

 What were the top three challenges you encountered and how have they been addressed?

First, improve the site quality and safety culture to the Seqens global standard. We put a lot of effort into action plans – immediate, short, mid, and long-term – which included a great deal of communication and training for all employees.   We spent over half a million dollars upgrading our equipment for greater safety and hired external consultants to address identified gaps in the current quality system. As well, the leadership team conducts unannounced safety inspections and shares the results with everyone. I’m proud to say that we have had no accidents in categories 1, 2 or 3 this year.  The quality remediation program continues as planned. 

 Second, establish clear operating policies and processes.  Integration of the legacy PCI Synthesis was slowing down, partially due to the impact of Covid. There are many internal processes or procedures that need to be implemented or revised in line with Seqens Corporate’s guidelines. We are in the middle of doing that.  

 Third, to be competitive in our industry, our customers expect speedier product development so they can meet their own goals and objectives. We need to be fully prepared when an opportunity arises. One of our long-term customers asked us to assess the feasibility to supply the existing product with more than 3-fold volume in the coming years. Our team was able to respond quickly. Together with our R&D colleagues in France, we modified the process to double the batch size. In addition, we are developing back integration strategy to ensure the raw materials could be made in house to reduce the risk of supply from the oversea. The customer is very satisfied with our response, and we are in the process of signing a long-term supply agreement.  The customer forecast shows the demand will triple in the next few years, accounting for 30% of site revenue, which is very significant for us.

 What is your #1 priority?

It’s our people. One of the key things I care deeply about is putting people in the right position so their job is fulfilling. Here’s one example. We had a talented technical employee who was planning to leave for another job.  We met and discussed his career goals. He said he wanted to work on the business side. So we set him up with a mentor so he could learn that side of the CDMO business. I talked to him recently and he is quite happy, which pleases me immensely. I am a people person and I enjoy putting people on the right career path.  

 People also have to feel part of the organization. To that end I meet regularly with employees, individually and in town halls, where we openly discuss our plans for North America, corporate’s plans, and solicit feedback and ideas from our staff.  My door is literally open, and I plan to spend more time at our Devens, MA site to meet regularly and in-person with employees there.

 We are constantly pushing to engage employees, encouraging suggestions and quickly acting on them. For example, an employee in the production team requested more uniforms, as some jobs require more frequent changes of clothes. It was a very reasonable request, and we immediately ordered an additional supply of uniforms. 

 We also have a talented HR director who is developing a variety of programs to retain talented people. When I came in, our turnover rate was high, above 20%, a bit higher than the rest of Boston’s pharmaceutical industry.  In the first half of this year our turnover rate plunged to single digit. Seqens NA employees know they can pursue career interests and their desired career path here. 

 What are your top three priorities going forward?

We have three:

  1. We need to finalize our organization structure and match our in-house expertise to the demand of our customers. 
  2. We are continuously optimizing processes for every single operation so that our customers continue to be happy with our service.
  3. We are doing many things in parallel, and a key objective is to achieve a high profit margin. It’s a delicate balance between driving the short-term business objectives and preparing the organization for long-term growth.

 What are your other longer-term goals and objectives for Seqens I&GP North America?

We have three main long-term goals.

  1. To ensure our company continues to have a good reputation, be respected by customers and competitors. 
  2. To continue to strive to make Seqens I&GP NA a Great Place To Work!  I want employees here to be happy contributors with a long-term career path. 
  3. To make sure we’re financially healthy, which is about quality, not only size of the organization. 

What are some key trends, challenges, opportunities in the pharmaceutical and CDMO industries, and how are they affecting Seqens?

Oftentimes, challenge and opportunities come simultaneously, and we are working to manage both.

One of the primary opportunities we have is the onshoring of drug development and manufacturing as it returns to the West. We’re preparing ourselves in resources and capabilities in the US to take on more projects to support current and future customers.

Second, small molecule drugs remain prevalent, despite that biologics are getting more attractions. In fact, 32 of the 50 therapeutics approved (64%) by the FDA in 2021 were small molecule drugs, that is the focus of our manufacturing activity. 

Third, outsourcing remains an industry trend. The challenge of course is that competition continues, and we are pressed to operate at ‘light speed’. We are improving our level of service to stay ahead of overseas CDMOs, which are starting to acquire US facilities. Otherwise, the US CDMO industry will face stiff price competition from overseas acquirers. 

We feel prepared for the challenges. Our Devens R&D lab is very efficient, very fast, particularly for early-stage projects, and our new facility there, scheduled to open in January 2023, will provide 50% additional capacity. We have very good GMP suites in Newburyport for Phase 1, Phase 2a clinical projects and are able to deliver very quickly, to be flexible. As a global organization, we can access Seqens’ in-depth knowledge and resources, bringing an additional depth and breadth of talent and know-how to our customers.  

As I said last year, the future is looking bright for CDMOs, and a year later, Seqens I&GP NA is better positioned to take advantage of it to the benefit of our sponsors, employees and partners. I continue to look forward to the journey.