Isabelle, after a successful career in the beverages industry, you transitioned to the life sciences field as the CEO of BioGaia. What motivated you to take on this new challenge?

After spending 22 years at Pernod Ricard, I was ready for a new challenge. Additionally, personal circumstances prevented me from continuing with the expat lifestyle I had been living. I completed an executive MBA program at Harvard University, which piqued my interest in the life sciences. During this time, my son was diagnosed with bone cancer, which further motivated me to work in an area that brings value. I later joined the Swedish NGO Barncancerfonden and was approached by BioGaia’s founder, Peter Rothschild, to join their board. When the CEO position became available, I was suggested as the successor and took the position in November 2018.

How has your previous international experience in the beverage industry and consulting helped you lead a company in the life sciences field?

BioGaia is transitioning from a B2B to a B2B/B2C business model, aligning with industry trends. My experience in brand building and the B2C field from the beverage industry has been valuable in establishing a consumer-centered mindset within the company. BioGaia initially sold probiotic bacteria to other companies, but we launched our own brand in 2006 and focused on finished products. With a global distribution network in over 100 countries, we have the potential to leverage brand awareness. Consumer awareness of probiotics is growing, and my experience in the beverage industry is helping us develop branding and packaging strategies.

Can you explain the main health benefits of BioGaia’s probiotic products for our international audience?

It’s important to note that “probiotics” is a general term, and different strains have different properties and address different indications. BioGaia has focused on strains of the probiotic species Lactobacillus reuteri for almost 30 years. We rigorously test hypotheses, conduct preclinical analyses, and run clinical trials before launching a product. Our probiotics have demonstrated significant benefits in gut health, with strong scientific evidence for indications such as colic, diarrhea, and constipation. We also have strong data in oral health and are exploring other areas like bone health. The gut is closely linked to the immune system, and maintaining gut health through probiotics can help prevent illnesses.

Which products are the main drivers of growth in terms of sales for BioGaia?

80 percent of our turnover comes from pediatric products, and our star product is BioGaia Protectis drops for babies with colic. This product has been proven effective through several meta-analyses, and it is an exception to the limited recommendations for probiotics by physicians. For example, the French pediatric association has included our product in their colic treatment guidelines.

Despite the clinical studies proving beneficial health effects, the probiotics field still faces stigma, and there are no official health claims for probiotic products in Europe. What steps do you believe are necessary in the regulatory field to enable companies like BioGaia to apply for health claims more easily?

I am concerned about the lack of guidelines and cooperation from regulatory bodies regarding probiotic regulation. Currently, we cannot make any health claims, preventing us from effectively communicating the effects of our products to consumers. Less serious probiotic manufacturers may ignore regulations and make unverified claims, making it difficult for consumers to understand the value of clinically proven probiotic products like ours. Countries like Canada have created a special category for probiotics between drugs and food, which is ideal for our industry. I hope to see other countries adopting similar frameworks.

BioGaia follows a unique business model, collaborating with external partners in research, manufacturing, and distribution. What are the benefits of this lean form of operations?

Our unique approach makes sense for BioGaia. By partnering with research institutions and facilities, we can conduct numerous studies that would be financially challenging otherwise. We collaborate with global universities and hospitals, such as Harvard, MIT, and Karolinska Institutet, for over 200 clinical studies with our probiotic strains. This external collaboration adds credibility to our research. Additionally, our lean operations allow us to focus on our core competencies while benefiting from the expertise and resources of our partners.

How does BioGaia leverage Sweden’s excellence in medical research, particularly through its collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet?

Sweden has a strong collaboration between the state, academia, and industry, which sets it apart from other countries. The openness of academia and industry to engage with each other benefits BioGaia. When there are great ideas or projects, the state is usually supportive in providing funding. We have ongoing projects with all seven Swedish university hospitals, which are highly active in research. Swedish physicians often participate in research while treating patients, and their dual experience benefits all stakeholders.

One of BioGaia’s founders, Peter Rothschild, emphasizes the need to fight antibiotic resistance. How does BioGaia tackle this challenge?

Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections but also eliminate beneficial bacteria in the body. Probiotics, on the other hand, take a preventive approach by contributing to balancing the microbiota. It should be common practice to add probiotics when taking antibiotics. Our probiotics, derived from breast milk, have shown in clinical studies that they can reduce the number of days antibiotics are required to treat an infection by up to 34 percent. While the industry primarily focused on developing new antibiotics, there is now a shift towards exploring bacteria and microorganisms as additional ways to address antibiotic resistance.

How do you approach branding and marketing when entering new business areas?

While we have a strong portfolio in the pediatric area, there are opportunities in adult health as well. I believe probiotics can have an impact in areas beyond gut health, such as autism or Parkinson’s disease. We are only at the beginning of our journey, and there is potential for our probiotics in various indications. For instance, we recently launched BioGaia Osfortis in the US, a product for the prevention of osteoporosis with excellent clinical trial results. We aim to be pioneers in next-generation probiotics and have invested in research-focused company MetaboGen, which specializes in microbiome research.

What is your strategy to strengthen BioGaia’s position in the fast-growing markets in the Americas and Asia?

Currently, 60 percent of our turnover comes from EMEA, but we aim to have 40 percent from EMEA, 30 percent from APAC, and 30 percent from the Americas to diversify risks. The APAC region has a history of using probiotics, presenting a significant market potential. Consumers in this region are highly aware of probiotic benefits and open to international products. The Americas also offer great potential, with growing consumer interest in probiotics and partnerships with companies like Abbott and Aché, who heavily market our products.

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