ISPE Netherlands Affiliate News

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The pharmaceutical industry in the Netherlands: a rich history and solid future.

In presenting an overview of the pharmaceutical industry in the Netherlands, its historic roots should not be overlooked. Entrepreneurial spirit, curiosity and imagination from the past to the present have resulted in strong performances of three pharmaceutical companies established more than a century ago. All three pharmaceuticals companies were spin-offs from parent companies with other main business interests.

In 1867, Jaques van Marken (1845 -1906) graduated from the Polytechnic University of Delft (nowadays known as the Delft University of Technology). After several years of investigating potential business opportunities, he decided to try dry yeast and ethanol production. In 1869, he established the Gist & Spiritus Fabriek (Yeast and Ethanol factory) in Delft. Part of the production equipment was then supplied by the Netherlands based company of Charles Stork (1822-1895). Stork remains an important supplier of equipment to the food and pharma industries to date.

After the Second World War, with help of their yeast culturing knowledge, the production of antibiotics by fermentative processes was started and quickly grew into one of the main businesses. The company merged and in 1967 Gist- Brocades was formed. In 1991, the company sold its Pharmaceutical Division to Yamanouchi and in 1998 DSM took over the remaining part of Gist Brocades. Jaques van Marken remains known as one of the most socially orientated entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. His company was the first to establish a work counsel and to offer its employees a pension fund (1879).

In the heart of the meat processing industry in the South of the Netherlands, in the small city of Oss, the Zwanenberg slaughterhouses were an important buisness. The owner, Saal van Swanenberg (1889-1974) was a clever businessman always looking for new opportunities. He is famous for having said: “The pig is a miracle of unlimited possibilities”. When a Canadian doctor Frederick G. Banting and one of his biochemistry students, Charles H. Best reported that insulin, extracted from pancreatic glands, and subsequently injected in diabetic patients was found to help these patients, Dr Van Swanenberg’s interests were raised. That same year Banting received a Nobel prize for this research (1923) and Organon was established by Saal van Swanenberg. The purpose of Organon was to “manufacture organ based preparations for scientific purposes”. Today, Organon is a medium sized innovative pharmaceutical company which has been part of Akzo Nobel since 1967.

And finally, Gerard (1858-1941) and Anton Philips who established their electronics company Philips in the 19th century. Philips is one of the largest in its field. In 1931 the company Philips Duphar was established as a spin-off of the development of UV-lights. In cooperation with the Van Houten choclate industry, vitamin enriched chocolates were manufactured using UV light. Duphar developed further and is now part of Solvay Pharmaceuticals located in Weesp.