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Meet The Billionaire-Owned Company Making Injectors For Blockbuster Drugs Like Ozempic

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Updated Apr 12, 2024, 11:46am EDT

SHL Medical started out in 1989 making medical devices from a single factory in Taiwan. Now the firm is poised to capture a chunk of the booming market for weight loss drugs.

By Giacomo Tognini, Forbes Staff


The runaway success of weight loss drugs took the markets by storm last year, spurring huge stock gains for drugmakers like Novo Nordisk, which makes Wegovy and Ozempic. Most patients take them at home in weekly injections, using plastic, pen-like devices known as autoinjectors, filled with the liquid medication and fitted with a tiny needle as wide as two human hairs.

As demand for the drugs soars, so does the need for those devices. That growth has now minted a new billionaire: Roger Samuelsson, the 60-year-old Swedish cofounder of Switzerland-based SHL Medical, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of autoinjectors. Forbes estimates he’s worth $3 billion, largely thanks to his 69% stake in the company he cofounded in 1989. The remaining 31% is held by Swedish private equity firm EQT—which has minted seven billionaires over the years—and Athos, the family office of the billionaire Struengmann brothers. Press-shy Samuelsson, who declined multiple requests for an interview, also enjoys fast cars (he raced in the 2016 Ferrari Challenge series) and owns the 414-foot megayacht Octopus, which he bought in 2021; the yacht was built for its first owner, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen (d. 2018).

SHL Medical makes injectors for drugs treating everything from multiple sclerosis to asthma to psoriasis. Twenty of the world’s 25 largest pharma companies—including giants Novo Nordisk, Amgen and Pfizer—use the firm’s products, as well as a host of smaller biotech startups, according to filings reviewed by Forbes. 90% of the firm’s revenues come from autoinjectors, where it controls 25% of the global market.

"They're single-use devices that have the drug in here, you take off the cap and you inject yourself," says Ulrich F?ssler, SHL Medical’s CEO, demonstrating one of the firm’s products—a sleek, cylindrical injector called “Molly” that resembles a whiteboard marker—in a video call from his office in Zug, Switzerland. (Another is called “Maggie”; the company says they are just easy names to remember.) “When Roger started in the early 90s, he thought that single-use autoinjectors could transform the administration of drugs. It took 30 years, but it did. We are the fastest-growing company in the industry."

Born and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson studied engineering in the southern city of Link?ping and was an avid boxer in his youth. Noticing that all of his boxing gloves were manufactured in Taiwan, he decided to visit the island in 1983 when he was 20 years old. He toured factories and started shipping gloves, bathroom pegs and rehab equipment for the elderly to Sweden.

“I was looking at a lot of different things, from connectors and cables to basically anything that would be profitable,” Samuelsson told Dragon News in 2010. “After going there several times, I loved the energy and excitement of the place and decided to spend more time there.”

He moved to Taiwan permanently in 1988 and started SHL Medical the following year, with his business partner Martin Jelf. Their first big break came in 1994 when they won a deal to make injectors for Kalamazoo, Michigan-based pharma firm Upjohn (now part of Pfizer). Samuelsson bought out Jelf’s stake in 2004 and decided to double down on autoinjectors, landing a contract with Amgen in 2006 to manufacture them for Enbrel, a biologic drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis.

“We made home administration actually possible,” says F?ssler, who joined the company in 2010 and led the company’s operations in Taiwan. “That was the starting point of this industry taking off.”

The firm also spent big on technology, investing in machines to automate production more than two decades ago. SHL Medical now boasts robots that seamlessly build every component of the autoinjectors, assemble them and then inspect them to ensure their quality—all customized for each individual customer.

"They are a technology leader by a huge margin," says Andreas Aschenbrenner, a partner at EQT who serves on SHL Medical’s board. "We used to own an [automation] company that wanted to sell a machine to Roger. They came back and said, ‘we've never in our entire lives seen something like this.’"

F?ssler took over as CEO in January 2018, with Samuelsson staying on as the firm’s majority shareholder. That same year, the firm completed a new, 680,000-square-foot factory in Taiwan and moved its headquarters to Switzerland. Two years later, EQT acquired a 31% stake from Samuelsson and two smaller investors who cashed out in the transaction, paying more than $400 million according to filings in Luxembourg.

Then in 2022, the Struengmann brothers—best-known for backing BioNTech, the biotech firm that partnered with Pfizer to make one of the first Covid-19 vaccines—bought part of EQT’s stake. SHL Medical now has 6,000 employees spread across production, design and assembly facilities in China, Mexico, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the U.S., where it first opened a design center in Florida in 2004.

When EQT first invested in SHL Medical in 2020, it valued the company at $2.1 billion. At the end of 2022, that jumped to $3.4 billion— a 61% return in just two years. "It's a market leader in a very important niche,” adds Aschenbrenner, referring to the market for autoinjectors.

That niche is about to grow much larger thanks to rocketing sales of Ozempic and Wegovy, part of a category called GLP-1 agonists, named after the hormone they target. F?ssler estimates that by 2027, those drugs will make up nearly a third of SHL Medical’s total revenues and almost 50% of its production volume, up from less than a third now. Much of the rest comes from biologics, a class of complex drugs produced using living cells or microorganisms, which help treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

The total revenues for drug delivery systems—including autoinjectors, pens and inhalers—was estimated to be $2.1 billion at the end of 2022 and is expected to grow 10% each year to $3.2 billion by 2027, according to an analysis by publicly traded Stevanato Group. Drugs like Ozempic will drive that growth even higher. In 2023, 61% of all therapies newly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required injectors, up from 46% in 2014.

"If you take obesity and diabetes out of the equation, the rest of the market will grow between 10% and 15%, no matter what,” says Aschenbrenner. “If you take obesity into the equation, it's an incredibly good market. If you were to [include] vaccines, it's an unbelievable market."

SHL Medical aren’t the only ones chasing the growing market for autoinjectors. Stevanato Group, majority-owned by the billionaire Stevanato family, supplies syringes used in injectors for Eli Lilly’s weight loss and diabetes drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound. Switzerland-based Ypsomed—founded by billionaire Willy Michel—announced an agreement to supply autoinjectors for Novo Nordisk in September. And Novo Nordisk’s parent company announced a $16.5 billion deal to acquire drug packaging firm Catalent in February, moving to ramp up supply of Wegovy to meet skyrocketing demand.

"There's a desperate attempt to increase capacity,” says Paul Knight, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets. Adds David Windley of Jefferies: "Lilly and Novo can move whatever amount of volume they can get in the market. They're in a mode of gobbling up capacity.”

Despite the competition, there’s more than enough business to go around for SHL Medical. "It's not a concern at all," says Aschenbrenner, pointing to the Catalent acquisition. "We have a very good partnership with Novo and it's very important that the supply chain works.”

SHL Medical is ramping up production to meet that new demand: It plans to make 750 to 850 million autoinjectors a year by 2028, up from its current volume of about 300 million. And it’s investing heavily to make that a reality, acquiring a Swiss automation firm last July and a plastic injection mold manufacturer in North Carolina in January. A new, $200 million factory in South Carolina is set to open this summer, with another $100 million facility in Switzerland coming in 2026.

While he’s no longer CEO and isn’t involved in day-to-day operations, Samuelsson now lives in Switzerland and remains the firm’s largest shareholder. "Roger's mantra is 'look around very carefully, listen very attentively, think a long time and then execute like hell,'" says Aschenbrenner. "Everything can be improved everywhere at all times."

Back in his office in Zug, F?ssler takes out an example of one of the firm’s newest products: an autoinjector that transmits a signal when the cap is removed, notifying a doctor that the patient has taken their dose. "You lift it off, that means it's activated. Our data goes directly into the cloud,” he says.

F?ssler and Aschenbrenner envision a near-term future where many more drugs—from vaccines to cancer therapy—could be taken at home. "We are working on a solution by the end of this decade to have an oncology treatment,” says F?ssler. Adds Aschenbrenner: "Imagine a world where you can provide vaccines in a delivery device which doesn't need a doctor.”


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