Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs) like ours perform many challenging chemistry projects. We develop the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for tomorrow’s improved or reformulated drugs, specialty chemicals and generics. We create functional foods manufactured under GMP guidelines, and GMP combination products that incorporate drug delivery. As an industry, we employ hundreds of Ph.D. chemists, numerous project managers and support staff, and run complicated operations. We spend heavily on infrastructure and equipment to wring as much inefficiency as possible out of projects in order to meet our customers’ often ambitious timelines and budgets. Despite all this, no CDMO can be all things to all customers.
At Seqens CDMO, we know what types of projects we excel at, and we bend over backwards to make sure we are compatible with clients’ needs. But the one thing we try to do very well that is applicable across the board is to provide exceptional Service. Award-winning Service, in fact.
We are proud of the fact that the industry recognizes our commitment to Service by honoring us, for the 6th year in a row, with Life Science Leader’s top award for Service.
This article will focus on why Service is such a core value for our organization, share our service credo and touch on its implications for our customers.
What CDMO customers want
A few years ago, we asked customers, “What’s the most frustrating part of working with CDMOs?” Service failures always cropped up. Customers wanted CDMOs to be more responsive, more attentive. We determined we would do just that, every day from the beginning to the end of every project.
The CMO Leadership Award for Service
For its CMO Leadership Award, Life Science Leader delineates these four components of
- Pre-formulation/formulation support
- Process development and optimization
- Analytical services, including stability and storage testing
- Regulatory support
I believe the way we go about providing service across these categories is what led to our being voted best in class by the pharmaceutical industry.
Because we know we cannot be all things to all people, as an organization we decided long ago that while customers come to us for our expertise, we would also focus on service. As a smaller company (until being acquired by Seqens), we did not have the biggest facilities, although we have all the equipment and technology necessary to get the job done. But it is our service culture, a way of doing business that our customers clearly appreciate.
Our goal has always been to serve as an extension of our customers’ organization, and be as invested in and as caring about their project as they are. Their vote suggests we’ve succeeded. We do everything we can to help our partners succeed by delivering a high level of personal service—day or night. Whether it’s a holiday, a weekend or 3:00 am, we’re immediately responsive to the need at hand.
Christmas week? Mission accomplished
As one example, between Christmas and New Year’s last year, one of our partners was under tremendous pressure to get their product formulated in time to meet an important milestone. We had to condense weeks of work into one. We had to have the API Quality Control tasks completed, get methods approved and ship the product. But our team came together despite the holiday, and we were able to get the product off to the formulator in time. Admittedly it was a significant challenge to get it done over the Christmas holiday, but we have rarely let clients down no matter what day it is.
Another time, a customer with a product already on the market was losing a supplier unexpectedly and needed a new CDMO to ramp up quickly. And on top of the requisite technology transfer, the chemistry needed to be developed so that production could proceed as quickly as possible in order not to curtail market supply. That’s not easy – technology transfer itself is a complex process. Of the 18 companies the customer reached out to, only two responded promptly! Others took as long as two weeks to respond. Despite being as busy as we always are, we were able to accommodate.
When does service begin?
We’ve also been fortunate in that almost all the work we do comes from referrals from industry colleagues. Whether it’s a referral or an inquiry on our website, we respond within 24 hours, and often sooner. It doesn’t matter where or when. If anyone takes the time to come to our website and has a problem we can solve, we make sure we respond quickly. It gives customers a sense of how we work. Two days—never mind two weeks—is much too long a time to wait for a response from a CDMO.
We do ask a lot of our staff, but they understand that the Seqens CDMO culture demands that we achieve the goals of the project efficiently, cost-effectively, and gladly. When the inevitable occasional breakdown occurs, we view it as a teachable moment. Although we all work hard, we have little staff turnover, far less than the market average.
How to handle bad news
Transparency is also little discussed, but an important aspect of service. Another big complaint in our industry is that when issues come up, no solutions are offered. When we have bad news to relay, we don’t hold back. And we follow up immediately. We don’t just lay it out and walk away. Rather, we say there’s a problem, but here are two ways to solve it. Some CDMOs expect their customers to solve their problems for them. Not us. We’re the experts, and it’s up to us to resolve issues. To me it’s an unwritten contract that if you entrust us with your project and spend all this time and money, you should have access to all the expertise and resources we have.
We’ve rarely written an article that doesn’t include the importance of communication, of keeping clients informed. To that end we insist on weekly calls and budget meetings and have found that discipline to be helpful. But we have to make sure the right people communicate. It is not productive to have sales people involved in project manager roles. Once the work begins, our highly experienced and long-time project managers take over. And it is they who keep projects moving through our labs and manufacturing suites.
We are in a challenging and demanding business. Service, compatibility, transparency and communication are the building blocks of an enjoyable and productive sponsor-CDMO relationship.