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Albert Friesen: Innovations Augmenting the Healthcare Space

Healthcare Space | Albert Friesen
Albert Friesen | Medicure Inc

The major advancements in the healthcare industry with research and development that are being implemented significantly over the past few decades have introduced new platforms enabling reliability in the niche.

However, the cost of prescription drugs is growing at an unsustainable rate, making it difficult for patients to access the medicines they need. Comprehending this scenario, one of the progressive technology models that have evolved in the last few years is Telemedicine which has enabled accessibility in reaching renowned doctors to patients.

The recent innovation that has positioned itself as an attractive model in the healthcare industry is e-pharmacy. These pharmacies can effectively and repeatedly address multiple issues that healthcare consumers and the system face.

It enables consumers to order medicines conveniently and aggregates supply with an efficient infrastructure that provides value-added information to consumers, such as drug interactions and their side effects.

Moreover, an online pharmacy model enables existing pharmacies to start online functioning and serve a broader set of customers. A network of pharmacies integrates into one platform and access a wider customer base while also ensuring that the inventory is consolidated. Enabling a plethora of such reliable services, Medicure excels in the limelight of the healthcare industry.

Under the leadership of Albert D. Friesen, CEO, and Founder, Medicure’s sales force markets to physicians and other healthcare professionals. E-Commerce integration offers patients and providers direct online ordering and home delivery by providing a growing portfolio of products that improve patients’ lives.

In an interview with Insights Care, Albert sheds light on Medicure’s journey, its vision and core values, and his opinions on the company’s future.

Albert, can you please tell us about your journey as the CEO and Founder of Medicure Inc.

With a PhD from the Department of Chemistry, University of Manitoba, I began a career in the pharmaceutical business as the first employee of the Winnipeg Rh Institute, where I led the development of WinRho. This drug prevents Rh Disease in the Newborn.

Over a 20-year career with the Rh Institute, as President, I led the development of several other plasma products and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities. The Winnipeg Rh Institute became Cangene, and now Emergent BioSolutions.

In the 1980s 1990s, I started several biotech companies, the first ABI Biotechnology Inc., which became Apotex Fermentation, and now Cronos. Other companies I started are DiaMedica Inc. and Novopharm Biotech, which became Viventia and now Sesen Bio.

In 1997 I started Medicure Inc., focusing on developing MC-1 and learning and innovating pharmaceutical marketing. My previous career had been in drug development and manufacturing believed that there would be interesting opportunities in innovating the marketing of drugs in the USA market.

What are the core values upon which your organization is built? Can you elaborate on the mission of Medicure Inc.?

We believe strongly that all patients should have access to affordable and life-changing medications. It’s precisely why Medicure ventured into the online pharmacy world with the purchase of Marley Drug® in December of 2020.

Customers are longing for businesses to operate with integrity regarding drug pricing in the U.S. Integrity is one of our core values at Medicure. We say what we do, and we do what we say. Innovation is another of our core values at Medicure.

As a company, we find innovative ways to serve patients and healthcare providers; whether it’s through developing new medications, like MC-1 to treat a rare form of epilepsy caused by a genetic Pyridox(am)Ine 5′-Phosphate Oxidase (PNPO) deficiency or strategically purchasing and promoting mature products in new ways, like Aggrastat® (tirofiban hydrochloride) injection, or by creating solutions to supply chain issues by purchasing Marley Drug and developing an E-Commerce solution for patients to bypass insurance company/pharmacy benefit manager middlemen for our other therapy Zypitamag® (pitavastatin) tablets and generic medication, as a whole.

Tell us more about Medicure Inc.’s vision and how it provides safe and cost-effective pharmaceutical products in the U.S. market.

Medicure is a pharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of innovative and affordable therapeutics for the U.S. market.

Medicure’s sales force markets to physicians and other healthcare professionals and with an E-Commerce integration offering patients and providers direct online ordering and home delivery without the need for insurance.

Our vision is to become a leading pharmaceutical company within the U.S., offering a growing portfolio of products that improve patients’ lives.

We are actively developing new products (MC-1 and several generics), promoting our current portfolio (Aggrastat, Zypitamag), and creating innovative solutions for patients to enable them access to life-saving medications through our E-Commerce pharmacy platform Marley Drug.

Can you elaborate more on the benefits it is providing both patients and healthcare and how it is making an impact on the pharmaceutical industry?

The cost of medications affects patients’ compliance and, ultimately, their overall health. No other industry would one provide a customer something, in this case, medications, without knowing how much they are paying for it, if they purchased it, and if they are using it.

We can help bridge that gap between healthcare providers and patients using open and honest communication. We work with healthcare providers to let them know if their patients are, in fact, filling their prescriptions. We also provide patients with transparent pricing with no hidden fees. It’s a win-win for healthcare providers and patients.

Our Medicure model helps build trust with both healthcare providers and patients. Trust is so important in healthcare. It allows for open communication and better patient outcomes.

Being an experienced leader, what were the biggest challenges you faced in the pharmaceutical niche, and what were the ways you opted to overcome them?

When we launched Aggrastat, we were selling to hospitals, a sell most of us could understand. The customer cared about the efficacy and safety of the medication as well as the cost. We did very well with Aggrastat growing its market share from 2% to 65% from 2014 to 2018.

We experienced significant challenges in market access when we purchased Zypitamag and entered the primary care market. We had more than just healthcare providers to convince, we also had patients and insurance companies/pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to convince.

We soon learned, especially for this medication, which is a pharmaceutical alternative to another expensive statin, Livalo®, access is everything. If patients cannot access it or afford it, they won’t buy it.

We launched Zypitamag at a price point of roughly 50% less than Livalo® expecting a quick adoption by insurance companies and PBMs. This was not the case, even when we offered the PBMs high discounts on top of this lower price. We soon learned the fastest and most profitable way for us to get this medication to patients was to sell it to them directly.

So, what we did was we purchased a pharmacy, Marley Drug, which can sell Zypitamag directly to patients for just $1 per day. Since then, we’ve seen a 10-fold increase in our sales, and this continues to rise steadily each month.

As an industry professional, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the pharmaceutical industry?

You always want to be solving a problem. What is the healthcare system missing, and can we help?

We are constantly consulting with patients and healthcare providers to understand what issues they are facing. They know best, and we rely a lot on their feedback.

So, my advice would be to never stop asking questions and always seek solutions to complex problems.

How do you envision further strengthening Medicure Inc.’s stronghold in 2022 and beyond?

One of Medicure’s main focuses is carrying out a Phase 3 clinical trial with MC-1 for the treatment of a genetic disorder referred to as PNPO deficiency which is a rare neurometabolic disease that presents with severe neonatal epilepsy. The completion and subsequent approval can really accelerate our growth at Medicure.

The FDA has a Rare Pediatric Disease Priority Review Vouchers program, and Medicure has qualified that when MC-1 is approved for the PNPO indication, the FDA will issue us a voucher to accelerate the approval process.

These vouchers sell for between US$100 million and US$200 million, meaning that once we finish our Phase 3 trial and obtain approval, we will receive a voucher worth in excess of US$100 million that will provide us with further non-dilutive capital. In addition, we believe that our recently launched e-commerce site for Marley Drug has enormous potential and will be our most significant driver of growth and significant source of our profits moving forward.



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