Friday, June 8, 2012

Executive Spotlight: Ralf Otto, Ph.D., VP Operations and Fremont Site Head, Boehringer Ingelheim

Ralf Otto
Otto joined Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in 2001. At BI, he has served as executive director of a large-scale cell culture manufacturing facility and also played a key role in a technology and capacity upgrade project of the facility. Beginning in 2010, Otto worked in BI’s Pharma production network as head of network competitiveness, holding global responsibility for improving sites’ competitiveness with a focus on Brazil and China. In 2011, he joined BI Fremont as site head.

Otto previously worked for Henkel in Duesseldorf, Germany, where he spent three years in various biotechnology-related positions. Since 2002, he has routinely taught commercial biotechnology courses at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), University of Stuttgart, and the University of Karlsruhe (both in Germany). He graduated with a degree in biotechnology and carried out his doctorate at the German Cancer Research Center/University of Stuttgart. His scientific writing has appeared in numerous international journals and books, and he holds more than 20 patents.

Q: Share a brief history of BI and its Fremont facility, acquired from Amgen.

A: Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) was founded in 1885 by Albert Boehringer in Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany. More than 125 years later, the company is still family-owned and is one of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies. The Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation currently has more than 42,000 employees and 145 affiliated companies spread across the globe. BI has six facilities in the United States: our U.S. headquarters and R&D including Biologics Skill Center in Ridgefield, Conn.; our generic company, Roxane, in Columbus, Ohio; a manufacturing facility in Bedford, Ohio; our animal medical facilities in St. Joseph, Mo. and Fort Dodge, Iowa; our chemical facility in Petersburg, Va.; and lastly, our biotechnology facility in Fremont, Calif.

BI acquired the Fremont facility in March 2011 from Amgen, making it BI’s first biotechnology facility in the U.S. This facility encompasses more than 300,000 square feet of state-of-the-art development and manufacturing space. BI’s vision was to transform the site into a development, clinical manufacturing, and innovation site that can develop and produce multiple drugs for different contract manufacturing clients and our own biologics.

Q: How many employees does the site have today? What kind of manufacturing capabilities?

A: BI Fremont has approximately 300 employees. The site is capable of developing and manufacturing non-clinical, clinical, and commercial biopharmaceuticals and includes a non-GMP pilot plant and process development labs. The facility boasts two trains that enable us to manufacture multiple products simultaneously, up to the 12,000-liter level from cell harvesting, cultivation, and purification, ending with fill and finish. Additionally, we are currently extending our services into disposable technology that would complement the usual bioreactors.

Q: Tell me some of your biggest goals for the year.

A: I want us to make BI Fremont the first choice for clients on the West Coast, especially in the Bay Area. While Fremont is BI's first biotech facility in the U.S., BI has been a successful contract manufacturer in other countries for decades. We are excited to expand our innovation to California. I want us to continue building a high-performing team in Fremont, ensuring that every employee can deliver his or her best. As for productivity, we have set the goal to beat our benchmark and to cultivate a culture of innovation that drives superior solutions for BI patients and clients. Our culture is based on values that make this a great place to work, and together we are focused on ways to build a sustainable future for the site.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to achieving these goals?

A: With the acquisition we inherited systems that need to be significantly transformed to support our multi-faceted business direction. We also need to ensure that employees have the right skills through training and by hiring new talent so that we can fulfill our objectives. Change is always a challenge, but we already have accomplished great achievements at high speed—for example, a four-fold increase in productivity, multi-product operations, and new product introduction—so we are sure that we can deliver even more on our ambitious targets.

Q: If you could change a public policy at the state or federal level, what would it be?

A: California is one of only three states where manufacturers are required to pay both a sales and property tax for equipment. We support current state legislation that would credit manufacturers for sales tax purchases.

Q: Some may be surprised to hear that BI is a family-owned company. Describe your corporate culture and how it may differ from others.

A: We provide value to the customer by being innovative and entrepreneurial in everything we do. We call this approach “value through innovation.” Value through innovation means coming up with new and better ways of improving health, which reflect and anticipate the needs of our customers and patients. We also emphasize both personal and professional development and encourage employees to never stop learning. Based on our values, we can guarantee sustainability as BI’s 125 years record shows.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: In a short period of time, I have seen great results from our staff in Fremont. Fremont has a diverse workforce that is extremely flexible, responsive, and experienced, which has achieved great success in just our first year. I am excited about our prospects for this year and beyond.

Q: What are you doing when you are not at work?

A: I spend time over the weekends traveling around California with my family. I am very much impressed by the country, people, and culture.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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