By Lucy Lamont
When George Osborne opened the new offices of Crawford Healthcare in 2012, he urged the business to “lead from the front and take UK success into international markets” – and the Cheshire- based group has gone on to provide a prime example of what the Northern powerhouse is built on, with innovation made in the North but playing to a global audience.
The advanced wound and skin care business has more than delivered on the vision outlined by the Chancellor. Fuelled by exceptional 43 per cent annual growth, Crawford Healthcare has become the fastest-growing business in its field and the fourth largest in the UK, keeping company with multinational giants such as Smith & Nephew.
This growth, according to Crawford’s charismatic chief executive Richard Anderson, is due to sales and marketing excellence, a fast research and development operation and growing demand in international healthcare for new approaches to wound treatment.
“Wound care has been crying out for research and development innovation for years,” Mr Anderson says. “Globally, we have an ageing population and an increasing number of people spending time in hospitals with chronic wounds such as diabetic ulcers, venous ulcers and at risk of developing pressure sores, and in many cases these wounds are infected.
“Typically, these wounds have been managed with antibiotics and dressings that have no real impact on the wound infection. With increasing resistance to antibiotics, the world has come to recognise how ineffective these treatments are, so the need for new approaches to treatment has become all the more urgent.
“We recognised that concern and, since acquiring the wound care aspect of the business in 2011, have invested in new silver based technologies that destroy more bugs, faster and longer than any other dressings, with no known resistance. The key to our success is that we’re more specialist than the other global companies, so we can be extremely fleet of foot in developing new products and bringing them to market.”
It is evolutionary research and development which has seen the Institute of Directors recognise Richard Anderson as director of the year for science and innovation in the North West, and it places Crawford Healthcare on a trajectory of major expansion in Europe and the US. As Mr Anderson points out, the outlook is very different from in 2005, when he acquired the family-run dermatology business with just a handful of staff.
Today, it boasts a turnover run rate in excess of £20 million and has created over 100 new jobs in the past two years alone, part of a process described by its chief executive as a long-term project to build “a world-class business capable of transforming medical practice in global healthcare”.
Replicating the success of Crawford Healthcare’s highly profitable UK business overseas is high on Richard Anderson’s agenda, as he previously held senior positions with AstraZeneca and Taro Pharmaceuticals in New York, leading mergers and acquisitions growth for the latter, which helped to deliver a growth in value from $375m to almost $2 billion for the NASDAQ-listed business.
“Our future as a business lies in international markets, particularly Germany and the US,” Mr Anderson says. “We’re currently building a best-in-class international sales and marketing team with exceptional knowledge of local markets that will help us deliver UK innovation to a worldwide audience. We’re already seeing the benefits of that approach in the US, where our sales force is beginning to make real inroads into the world’s largest market.
“We also have an experienced joint venture partner in Europe who is overseeing the successful introduction of our products into the continent’s largest wound care market, Germany. It’s an extremely exciting time to be leading the business and flying the flag for science in the North.”
With the breakup of AstraZeneca at Alderley Park, you could be forgiven for thinking that the North’s life sciences sector has taken a hit. But Mr Anderson insists that North West businesses are benefiting from a larger pool of research and development talent than the region has ever had, supported by world-leading research institutes.
“If you look at the level of investment in science in the North West, it’s staggering,” he says. “We have world-class academics on our doorstep and it’s our job as a business to ensure their work has a positive impact on patient care, whether that’s in the UK or overseas.
“To that end, we’ve developed close links with the University of Manchester, which is producing groundbreaking work in relation to biofilms and wound care.”
For those less well-versed in such matters, biofilms are essentially plaque-like barriers that form over chronic wounds such as venous and diabetic foot ulcers and pressure sores, trapping in harmful bacteria. The silver-based technology used in Crawford Healthcare’s dressings is proven to destroy these barriers while being the only formula on the market to kill the most resistant bacteria. It is fast, hard-hitting and could play a major role in the World Health Organization’s fight against antibiotic resistance.
It is this necessity for a global solution that drives Crawford’s commercial model and sees it spend more on research and development as a percentage of overall sales than does its competitors. The company has even secured total exclusivity on patented technology with a Canadian advanced materials developer to protect its growth trajectory – an agreement which the chief executive believes will prove to be a watershed moment for the business.
“This technology will be the cornerstone of how we manage wounds in the future,” Mr Anderson says. “With exclusive rights to its use, we essentially have an unrivalled platform to tackle the issue of chronic and stalled wounds, with or without infections, faced by clinicians the world over. We’re in a position now to significantly bolster our portfolio of products and that will only serve to boost our growth.”
With its newly expanded manufacturing site, and the ability to assess and test products rapidly through the University of Manchester, the future vision for Crawford Healthcare is clearly mapped. It has reinvested over £16m of profit into international expansion, research and development, manufacturing and intellectual property over the last five years – a strong statement from a company whose organic growth allows it to realistically target being a global force, quadrupling turnover in the coming years.
“We’re approaching the perfect storm in terms of global wound care,” Mr Anderson says. “The market is estimated to be worth $26bn by 2018. With the rise of diabetes and obesity, we can confidently predict that 1 to 2 per cent of the population in developed countries will experience a chronic wound in their lifetime.
“Crawford holds the key to the next generation of treatment. It’s our task now to take it from the North of England to the rest of the world.”