Swiss businessman achieves American dream

Ypsomed has its headquarters at Burgdorf northeast of Bern. Ypsomed

Willy Michel, majority shareholder of Ypsomed, a medical technology company, has been named Master Entrepreneur by the consultancy firm Ernst & Young.

This content was published on December 12, 2005 - 15:39

Ypsomed of Burgdorf produces injection pens and pen needles for administering medicinal drugs and is a pioneer in helping diabetics.

"These pens enable the user to inject just the right dosage of the drug, and they are very safe and easy to use," says Daniel Kusio, Ypsomed's spokesman, adding that they are designed so that even the elderly can use them without difficulty.

Diabetes is a chronic condition which affects a growing number of people. The most common form of the illness is type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 per cent of all cases. The worst affected area is the United States, where there are an estimated 20 million diabetics.

Worldwide almost 200 million people suffer from diabetes and World Health Organization (WHO) experts say this figure is likely to rise to 330 million by 2025.

According to the Swiss Diabetes Association, there are roughly 300,000 diabetics in Switzerland and a further 100,000 who are unaware that they are affected because their symptoms are very mild.

Market leader

For years, special days have been devoted to awareness campaigns on how to prevent the condition or help those who suffer from it. This year, "diabetes day" on November 14 was devoted to the problems of foot care for diabetics: it is reckoned that 70 per cent of lower limb amputations are ascribable to diabetes.

For many years, the illness has attracted the attention of researchers and pharmaceutical companies, due in part to the large number of potential customers for their products.

The insulin segment of the market, for instance, continues to grow by ten per cent a year and sales of Lantus, a relatively new drug produced by Sanofi-Aventis, increased by over 50 per cent in the first six months of this year.

Special devices are needed to administer these drugs. This is the province of Ypsomed, founded in Burgdorf in 2003 and employer of more than 1,000 people, most of them in Switzerland.

The company now occupies a front-ranking position internationally in the field of self-injection equipment.

In Europe and in Japan the use of these pens is now the norm, though this is not the case in the United States, where only a minority use them.

"There is great potential for development in the States," says Kusio, and Ypsomed is currently developing devices for the American market.

American dream

It is no accident that Ypsomed has developed so rapidly in Switzerland. "Our country is very strong in the field of precision electronics and micro-electronics," Kusio explains, pointing out that this is particularly true of the Bern and Solothurn region, where the company is located.

Ypsomed's sales figures show strong growth: in the last six months, turnover has increased by 22 per cent. The management is confident they will do even better in the next six months and they continue to invest and recruit more staff.

Trying to explain the secret of his success, Michel said he "was fortunate to have good staff, good products and good relations with his commercial partners".

Michel has in fact realised the "American dream" in a European context, having begun his career as a humble apprentice with the company that has since become Novartis.

He is now the owner of a successful exchange-listed enterprise and is one of the wealthiest people in Switzerland, with a fortune of around SFr2 billion ($1.5 billion).

But Michel is not just a businessman. He takes an active part in the life of the town of Burgdorf, where he helped establish the museum devoted to Franz Gertsch, a leading exponent of photo-realism.

swissinfo, Anna Luisa Ferro Mäder

Key facts

There are almost 200 million diabetics worldwide.
According to the WHO, this figure will rise to 330 million by 2025.
In Switzerland there are over 300,000 diabetics.
Between 5% and 10% of world spending on health is diabetes-related.

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In brief

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin or by reduced sensitivity to insulin.

Ypsomed produces high-tech, easy-to-use devices for injecting the insulin needed by diabetics.

The company's Swiss owner, Willy Michel, was named Businessman of the Year in 2005.

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