Ardian’s Omar-Broca: Unither exit is a testimony to healthcare’s resilience

Ardian acquired contract development and manufacturing company Unither Pharmaceuticals in March 2017.

Ardian invested a “lot of additional capital” in production lines in France and the US during the hold period of Unither Pharmaceuticals, managing director Scarlett Omar-Broca told PE Hub Europe.

In late October, Ardian announced the sale of its stake in Unither to a consortium led by CEO Eric Goupil and comprising GIC, IK Partners, Keensight and Parquest.

Amiens, France-based Unither is a European pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organisation that produces complex sterile liquid formulations for medical use. The company employs over 1,600 people across seven manufacturing facilities in France, the US, Brazil, and China, as well as an additional R&D centre in Bordeaux.

“I think we invested over €250 million of capex in the company over our holding period,” Omar-Broca said.

For Ardian, Unither had a “unique” position to capitalise on the growth of its end markets, as it manufactures and develops sterile unit-doses for the pharmaceutical industry. “It was really a story of investing a lot of capex ahead of the demand,” Omar-Broca explained. “As the demand was coming, but always ahead of time.”

From an inorganic perspective, Unither completed two add-on acquisitions under Ardian’s wing. In 2020, Unither acquired Nanjing Ruinian Best Pharmaceutical, a Nanjing, China-based developer and producer of solid and liquid form pharmaceutical products. The second was a signed deal for a plant in Brazil. As the deal has not closed yet, Omar-Broca could not disclose further details.

During the covid pandemic, Unither developed a device called Euroject that was based on the blow-fill-seal technology that enables a single-dose injection of therapeutic products, including vaccines. “The company is investing heavily in that project,” Omar-Broca said. “It’s very interesting to bring a lower cost solution to the vaccine industry.”

Like other contract development and manufacturing companies, Unither faced a slight slowdown in 2021. This was late in the covid cycle, said Omar-Broca, as it took time for the slowdown to go through the value chain to the manufacturer. “But then it rebounded quickly,” she said. “Unither was not immune to covid, but the the rebound was very strong.”

Healthcare is one of Ardian’s core focuses and where the company deploys a “significant” share of its funds. Even with a difficult market outlook and uncertainty around an economic crisis, the Paris-based firm still sees healthcare as a highly resilient segment.

“I think this exit is a testimony to that – to be able to exit a relatively large transaction at this point in time,” Omar-Broca said. “It shows us that for the right companies, with high growth stories, there is still a market.”