Essential Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company that makes products that preserve organs for transplantation, is about to undergo a transplant of its own. The 11-person staff of the company is moving on May 22 from Newtown, Pennsylvania, to the Princeton South Corporate Center just off I-95 at Exit 4.
Allan Weber, CEO of Essential, says the company was lured to New Jersey by the superior office space available here compared to Pennsylvania, and by the fact that some of the company’s employees lived in New Jersey. “In Newtown there are really no offices that offer benefits to employees like the office space here does,” he says. “My philosophy is that as we grow, I want everybody to benefit. If you make a nice work environment, people feel happy and better treated.” Princeton South boasts a cafe, a gym, and an on-site hotel, among other amenities.
The main reason for seeking new quarters in the first place is that Essential is expecting a surge of growth over the next several years as it rolls out a new line of products. Cell-Ess is a synthetic replacement for cow’s blood that is used to nourish cell cultures. Cryo-ess is a substance that allows cells to be preserved in a frozen state. Clin-Ess is for preserving cold or frozen tissue samples for study and diagnostic testing.
Weber says the current market for his products is dominated by serums that are made by taking calves’ blood and removing some of the plasma from it. The stuff is able to feed cell cultures, keeping them alive for scientists and doctors to study, but it has some drawbacks. “It’s highly variable,” Weber says. Other synthetics are available, but they work on small ranges of types of cells. The -Ess line of products is supposed to work for a wide variety of cells.
Weber grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, where his father was an employee of the Department of Defense, and his mother was a nurse. He studied economics at the University of Maryland, and then went on to State University of New York at Binghamton, where he got a master’s in economics. He has spent his entire career in the medical field, working at companies like Lavipharm Laboratories, Gynetics, and Carter Wallace doing business development, sales, and marketing work.
Weber eventually was the third employee of East Hanover-based Odyssey Pharmaceuticals, which grew from a small team to a thriving company of 500 people in a short time. When Odyssey was bought out by Barr Pharmaceuticals in 2006, antitrust regulations required it spin off a division of the company, which happened to be the one Weber was in charge of. This division made something called Custodiol.
When a liver or kidney is removed from an organ donor, the person receiving the organ is rarely there to have it implanted right away. Doctors need to preserve the precious, living organ until it can be put into the new patient. Custodiol is a watery substance designed to flush sodium and calcium from the organs, allowing them to survive longer without blood or oxygen.
Custodiol was invented in Germany, where it is still manufactured. Unlike, say, the recipe for Coca-Cola, which is a closely guarded trade secret, the ingredients of Custodiol are well known. However, Essential is the only company that knows the manufacturing process.
“You couldn’t just take all the ingredients and put them together,” Weber says. “They tried that once in Mexico, and it killed several patients.”
Weber had licensed Custodiol for Odyssey back in 2000, and had led a successful sales and marketing campaign. He could think of no better person to lead the spinoff than himself, so he raised money and bought the divested company. Since then, he has been the president and CEO of Essential Pharmaceuticals, continuing to sell Custodiol while developing the three new “-Ess” products.
Although Essential is not a family company, Weber’s wife, Denise, gave up a career at a major advertising firm to take a job as head of marketing for Essential. “She gave up doing Super Bowl commercials for this,” Alan says. The couple lives in Robbinsville.
Weber hopes to repeat the success he had at Odyssey. If he is successful, Essential’s presence at Princeton South will grow from a small crew to a major corporate tenant.
“This is a hugely exciting time for us,” Weber says. “It’s a huge growth period. We expect these new products to take our company to triple its size, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes up from five to six times that. The potential is gigantic.”
Essential Pharmaceuticals, 200 Princeton South Corporate Center, Ewing 08628; 267-757-0112; fax, 267-757-0119. Allan Weber, CEO. www.essentialpharma.com.