Viatris marks 40 years in Australia

By Megan Brodie 2 years ago | In Companies, People
  • 2 years ago
Federal MP and Speaker Milton Dick, Viatris Country Manager Sylvain Vigneault, and Carole Park Head of Operations Robert Elliot mark 40 years.

17 August 2022

It was 40 years ago in Queensland that the UK-headquartered Alphapharm established a small Australian office. Around the same time, a chemistry graduate from the Queensland University of Technology was working on a medical research project and, with funding for the project coming to an end, was looking for a job.

At age 21, Robert Elliot applied for a product development role at Alphapharm and got it – one of just six employees to work at the company’s operations in its first year when, at that stage, it was tasked only with developing generic versions of established drugs for bioequivalence testing.

“There was almost no such thing as generics back then,” Elliot tells MedNews. “Alphapharm really pioneered generics in Australia.”

The plan was never to be a major manufacturer of generics, but fast-forward 40 years and the company is producing billions of pills and capsules a year. It has more than 400 SKUs and, while Australia remains its biggest market, the company also exports to the US, European and Asian markets, making it the largest medicines manufacturing facility in Australia.

Elliot and Vigneault join MP Milton Dick and staff at Carole Park.

The importance of the Carole Park facility was recognised by the Federal Government in it being granted $1 million as part of its Modern Manufacturing initiative – funding that has gone towards new, state-of-the-art lines on track to open later this year.

For Elliot, the new lines mark yet another milestone in what has been an incredible journey both for the company and the man.

Elliot recalls how in the early years the first products made here were exported to the UK, but when the TGA approved two products, his boss decided it could be made on site and sold directly into hospitals.

“Hospitals weren’t concerned about brand, they were just concerned about the drug – and the price,” says Elliot. “By offering a good price, we built a market. It wasn’t until 1991 when generic substitution in the pharmacy was made legal in Australia that business exploded.”

In 1994, it was acquired by Merck Darmstadt which opened up not only the European markets but Asia as well, while on Australian soil Alphapharm had no generic competitors. The company soared.

“We had enormous growth, not only with a very dynamic local market but great growth opportunities outside Australia as well,” says Elliot.

In 2007, the company was acquired by the US-based Mylan, which opened up the US market and introduced non-genericised products and biosimilars, while a merger with Upjohn in 2020 saw the birth of Viatris. Yet through all the company changes, the Carole Park facility has remained, continuing to grow and evolve.

Viatris Carole Park Head of Operations, Robert Elliot.

Along the way, Elliot moved from quality assurance to plant manager and fathered five children. Now Head of Operations, he quips he still has a few years left in him, and that the continuous evolution of the facility still excites him.

“I really am very excited about this new production suite,” he says. “The first piece of equipment we are installing, an encapsulation machine, will be able to make as many capsules in an hour as the four other capsule machines on the site combined.

“It makes 150,000 capsules an hour and weighs every capsule – it is a continuous motion machine, so it’s constantly making product.

“We also have some very exciting technology to go with it. We have¬†a tablet press that’s capable of making nearly 300,000 tablets an hour. It’s just amazing how far this technology has come.

“We’ve done some pretty big investments over the years and this is one of those great milestones which is taking the facility to another level again.”

When asked about his proudest achievement over such a long career span, Elliot reveals that sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact, pointing to a recent move to enable the company to stamp the famous ‘Made in Australia’ logo on its medicine packaging.

“We hadn’t been able to do it before because of the rules, but putting that Australian logo on our products is, you know, well it’s pretty special,” he says. “Our staff really appreciate the recognition that we are making these products here in Australia.”

Pretty special indeed. Happy 40th anniversary, Viatris.

©MedNews 2022

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