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Photos courtesy Terumo BCT

Terumo BCT

by Eric Peterson on October 28, 2019, 08:42 am MDT

www.terumobct.com

Lakewood, Colorado

Founded: 1964 (Terumo Corp.: 1921)

Publicly traded (Terumo Corp., U.S. OTC Markets: TRUMF)

Employees: 7,000 worldwide (2,700 in Colorado)

Industry: Bioscience & Medical

Products: Equipment for blood collection and processing, cell therapy, and therapeutic plasma exchange

President and CEO Antoinette Gawin is innovating on technologies for blood transfusion, cell therapy, and other medical uses.

Terumo BCT has been pioneering in heathcare technology for a long time, and its reach is only getting bigger.

Founded as Cobe Laboratories, the Lakewood-based company is more than 50 years old, and its Japanese parent is just shy of 100. "We serve patients in 130 countries," says Gawin. "Our distributors have been with us in some cases for 30 years."

Formerly CaridianBCT, Tokyo-based Terumo acquired the business in 2011 and merged it with Terumo Transfusion. The company has been at the forefront of medical innovation for close to a century. "Terumo actually comes from the German word for thermometer, because our founder invented the thermometer," says Gawin.

In Lakewood, it's a similar backstory: "Our founders started with basic filtration technology and built some of the first equipment that could filter blood." 

Gawin took over as CEO in April 2019 when David Perez retired after 20 years in the role. Her background was a good match for the multi-pronged, global business: She joined Terumo BCT in 2016 after more than 20 years with General Electric and five with Baxter International.

"We have a number of different business lines," says Gawin. "The common theme across all of them is we build equipment that helps collect and separate fine-level biological material -- your blood and your cells."

That's still central to the company: "Innovation has been about how you make the donor experience, simpler, faster, less painful so that we can address getting more people to donate." 

Terumo BCT also makes equipment for therapeutic plasma exchange. "We are literally filtering blood, exchanging damaged cells, and giving you healthy blood back," says Gawin.

Physicians are using the company's devices to filter cholesterol from patients' bloodstream and for other cutting-edge applications. "We are innovating with our customers," says Gawin.

Cell and gene therapy technology is Terumo BCT's newest area, and the one that's growing at the highest rate. "It is our equipment that actually grows and expands the therapy, so you have therapeutic cells that divide genetic material, and then we get that back to the patient," says Gawin. "Our growth is following those patients along the continuum and figuring out what else some of these manufacturers really need to make cell therapy accessible to the market."

Terumo BCT's new Finia system automates the finishing and filling processes for cell therapy. Because of the fragility of the cells, automation is a natural, says Gawin. "In the cell therapy manufacturing cycle, every manufacturer in cell therapy is manufacturing a unit of one: You've got one patient."

About two-thirds of employees, or about 5,100, work in manufacturing for Terumo BCT worldwide.

Colorado remains the center of the company's global manufacturing footprint. "We have a big anchor [facility] in Lakewood," says Gawin. "We produce primarily the collection equipment and things of that nature."

But it's part of a much broader network that spans Europe and Asia. The company has a solutions plant in Northern Ireland that makes anticoagulants and other critical materials for Terumo BCT's equipment," so we don't run the risk any supply chain interruptions," says Gawin, and an electronics-oriented facility in Belgium. A plant in southern India in and a new facility in Vietnam "provide redundancy to what we have in Lakewood, so we have backup," she adds.

Cobots (collaborative robots) are a key part of the manufacturing process, especially in Lakewood. "They literally mimic the work. We have a lot of heavy manual assembly -- think of a blood bag with 100 tubes on it and all the little bits and pieces that need to get plugged and twisted, very straining work. We have implemented cobots to help eliminate some of those things."

Terumo BCT recently used techniques it implemented in manufacturing to deploy equipment for the American Red Cross. "The American Red Cross literally said they didn't need a project manager because they would defer to ours," says Gawin. "It's a philosophy: How do you continually get better every day? But if you are completely connected with your customers and immersed in what they do, then you find better ways to do things and you free up capacity to serve more patients. It's a virtuous cycle."

That dovetails directly into Terumo BCT's broader mission of helping as many patients as possible, she continues. "In the complexity of our healthcare environment, you can have great technology such as ours, but if you don't have access, if patients can't pay for it, it's meaningless."

Annual revenue is nearly $1 billion, up 500 percent over 1999; parent Terumo's annual revenue is about $4 billion.

"We target high single-digit growth and we target growing above the market," says Gawin, meaning Terumo BCT's targets are typically around 8 percent.

The company also invests roughly 10 percent of revenue into innovation and R&D, double or triple the typical medical device manufacturer.

Challenges: "It's a very complex market," says Gawin. "Every market we operate in has different regulatory oversight. Some people think of blood is a biologic, some people think of blood as a drug, and some people just think of your blood as your blood."

Expensive and long-term clinical trials in numerous countries is a notable logistical challenge. For cell therapy, it can be even more difficult. "The legislation hasn't been written yet," says Gawin.

Of Terumo BCT's manufacturing in India and Vietnam, she notes, "The relationship between those countries dictates where you might ship from or where you might go. That creates another layer of complexity."

Recent trade policy has introduced another variable: "The trade war between the U.S. and China has a massively negative impact on us. To ship a piece of equipment to China, I pay a tariff of 29 percent. "

Shelf life is another challenge, she adds. "Your blood expires. We have a constant challenge trying to help our customers literally figure out how they get more blood."

Opportunities: Terumo BCT's market is roughly evenly divided between North America, Europe, and Asia, says Gawin, but she seems room for growth in the Middle East, Russia, Latin America, and Africa. "Women in Africa still die in childbirth every day because of lack of safe access to blood," she notes. 

Cell therapy will be a big growth driver moving forward, Gawin adds, as huge investments are going into both R&D and healthcare. Terumo BCT is currently focused on the U.S. and Japan, but it will expand into other markets as the technology gains acceptance. "There's a lot of opportunities in Europe and elsewhere," says Gawin, "but we follow the research. The U.S. has really been a leader there."

Gawin notes Terumo BCT's cell therapy business is growing at an annual clip of 25 to 30 percent, whereas the company's core business is growing at a rate closer to 5 percent a year.

Needs: "I am always recruiting for talent," says Gawin. "Colorado is difficult, in part because it's not a manufacturing hub."

That means enticing experienced people to relocate: "We try to have that startup vibe, but we're not a startup."

Software engineers are always in demand, as are policy experts who can help "shape the market" in different countries.

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