For centuries, folks have been coming to America from Europe in search of prosperity, new markets and an alternative way of life.
In October 2014, UK-based Vernalis Therapeutics Inc. joined that pilgrimage as it established its first-ever US base in Berwyn in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the Greater Philadelphia area.
A seller of respiratory medicines to Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and other large pharmaceutical companies, Vernalis worked with the Pennsylvania Office of International Business Development on this project.
“We wanted to be in a location with a rising talent pool,” says Thomas Parker, senior vice president of commercial operations for Vernalis, whose parent firm is headquartered in Winnersh Triangle in Reading, England. “Talent is so critical for startups and emerging companies. If you are constantly looking at relocation for your executive teams, why not avoid that if you can?”
Parker says the entire site selection process took about six months. “We wanted to be in the pharmaceutical corridor,” he says. “A few of our senior management executives, including our CEO and CFO, had experience in the US. Our CFO was familiar with the area because of the Shire Pharmaceuticals location. He was a former Shire executive. The pharma companies around this area made it very attractive for us.”
Finding the Sweet Spot
The initial search cast a wide net, Parker says. “We looked at New York, Boston, Pennsylvania, and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina,” he notes. “We did a bit of research in South Florida as well. Through our contacts and an official tax assessment, as well as understanding the talent pool in the area, we made our decision to locate in Berwyn in October 2014.”
Parker adds that “the plan was to build the US business with a commercial sales force all across the US, but to do it with the headquarters being in Berwyn in Chester County.”
Vernalis has grown steadily in Pennsylvania since then. “From October 2014 to April 2015, we went from three employees to now 19 in Berwyn. Almost all of them have previous pharma experience. Medical, regulatory and commercial experience are all here. It has been everything we had hoped for when we were ready to hire. In fact, we are now only three new employees away from going to a larger facility. Less than one year after our first approval, we are already seeking out our next office facility.”
Parker says this is an important time for his company. “We are a niche respiratory company right now,” he says. “We do a lot of primary care products. We have about 100 people in sales rep management roles calling on primary care physicians. We make a prescription soft cough cold product. We acquired a product that we are relaunching in June. This move to Berwyn is about being close to our partners. We don’t have to fly across the country to do deals.”
Parker says that with more than 100 colleges and universities in the region, “it is a rich environment with bright people who are looking to jump into this sector and have a career here. Plus, the state supports this sector. We will stay in this area and maybe even right where we are as we continue to grow. I am looking right now at some local space that is available.”