Sulzer, in push for convenient dosing, snares Swiss self-injection developer Haselmeier for $118M

Pharma giants from Johnson & Johnson to Novartis to Roche, looking for edges in speed and convenience, have unveiled self-injection options to replace intravenous infusions in the fields of cancer, neurological diseases, diabetes and more. Now, a Swiss maker of drug applicators is looking to get in on the action, and it's agreed to buy out a neighboring medical device developer to make it happen.

Swiss industrial engineering and manufacturing firm Sulzer will put up €100 million ($118 million) to acquire Haselmeier, a Swiss-German company focused on development of drug delivery devices, including subcutaneous self-injection pens used to deliver medication for diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. 

With the Haselmeier tie-up, Sulzer hopes to broaden its own applicator system offerings while supporting Haselmeier's ongoing work in the field, both through added financial support and its precision injection molding expertise. Through their combined efforts, the companies hope to carve out a share of the fast-growing drug delivery device market.

Haselmeier's current workforce stands 230-strong. In 2019, the company raked in €36 million, or about $42.7 million, in sales. At present, the company touts five separate injection devices.

Haselmeier's D-Flex subcutaneous injection pen is approved in diabetes patients for self-administration of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and insulin, as well as long-term, personal treatment of osteoporosis, plus some areas of oncology. The company also offers a disposable, fixed-dose pen for self-injection, Axis-D, with the same indications as its D-Flex device. Plus, Haselmeier's i-pen and i-pen2 cover the same treatment areas while offering a range of customization features, such as dosing level and device color. And the company's Penlet auto-injector seeks to corner the same patient groups with a hidden needle to improve comfort in those with a fear of injections. 

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It's Sulzer's hope that the Haselmeier acquisition will dial up revenues for both companies, thanks to boosted manufacturing capacity and insourcing opportunities benefiting from the partners' close proximity. 

"We believe that we will add to [Haselmeier's] success story by providing financial strength and precision injection molding capabilities, thereby accelerating the company’s growth," Girts Cimermans, President of Sulzer's applicator systems unit, said in a statement. "Furthermore, combining our expertise in liquid mixing applications with Haselmeier’s drug delivery competence will benefit our pharmaceutical customers, providing them with innovative and differentiated devices and services.”

Sulzer and Haselmeier are joined by a cadre of Big Pharmas looking to roll out self-administered and subcutaneous alternatives to medications typically given via intravenous injection.

As competition mounts against Johnson & Johnson's intravenous multiple myeloma drug Darzalex, the company has looked to pad the label for its subcutaneous formulation, Darzalex FasPro. In August, J&J turned out phase 3 data showing that subcutaneous Darzalex, in combination with Celgene's Pomalyst and the steroid dexamethasone, beat a Pomalyst-dexamethasone pairing at staving off cancer progression in adults. J&J hopes that the FasPro formulation, which can be administered in a matter of minutes, will give Darzalex an edge in convenience over Sanofi's rival CD38 inhibitor Sarclisa, which requires an hours-long infusion. 

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Beyond the oncology field, Roche and Novartis have sought to revitalize their aging asthma blockbuster Xolair through the introduction of a prefilled syringe designed for home use. That formulation has already snared approval in Europe, where Novartis attributed an uptick in Xolair sales last year to the launch of the the self-injection option. That formula is under review at the FDA, with a decision due early next year. 

Roche scored another big convenience win with the approval of Enspryng for the treatment of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) in August. Unlike Enspryng's main NMOSD competition—Alexion's Soliris and AstraZeneca spinoff Viela Bio's Uplizna, both given via infusion—the Roche drug is administered every four weeks subcutaneously, with the option for at-home dosing once patients are comfortable with the treatment process.

Plus, smaller drugmakers like Xeris are making a case for convenient patient dosing options, too. In July, the company launched its Gvoke HypoPen for personal treatment of hypoglycemia in children and adults. The convenient, easy-to-use solution for potentially life-threatening low blood-sugar events has seen Xeris' glucagon prescriptions soar, with Jeffries analysts hailing the HypoPen as a potential EpiPen for diabetes patients—likening Xeris' device to the ubiquitous Mylan epinephrine auto-injector for allergic events.