Iris Biotech – an exemplary performance of how to do business in Japan

In 2001, Iris Biotech GmbH was founded in the Bavarian city Marktredwitz close to the Czech border. Just one year later, the company started doing business in Japan to promote its unique portfolio. Quite successfully so! We were very lucky to get the opportunity for an interview with their CSO, Thomas Bruckdorfer, who is also one of the two partners behind this successful enterprise. Herein, he shares some of his experiences gained during this fruitful journey.  

Iris Biotech follows the slogan: 

Empowering Peptide Innovation 

In the beginning, the company mainly focused on peptides as well as substances for the synthesis therof, which still represents the core business of Iris.  

Today, they expanded the portfolio towards reagents for Drug Delivery, LifeSciences and Diagnostics. 

Yes, our company’s focus remains Peptide Chemistry. But during the years we have also gained strong expertise in Drug Delivery, Life Sciences and Custom Syntheses. This is the know-how which we are sharing with our customers. We support scientists in both industry and academia with standard consumables as well as innovative and rare compounds.

Iris Biotech also supplies Amino Acids, Resins, Reagents and Solvents.

– Besides, our portfolio contains a great variety of substances for Drug Delivery including mono- and polydisperse PEGs as well as various polyamino acids. Especially the latter ones are attractive tools as they represent biodegradable alternatives to PEGs, which help to improve the solubility and pharmacokinetic properties of peptides, proteins, biopharmaceuticals and organic drug molecules. 

– In this context, I would like to mention our newly evolved field of activities, the so-called Linkerology, which advanced during the last few years. First mainly in the USA, now also in Europe and in Japan – more and more applications are coming up, where small highly potent molecules need to be conjugated to targeting vehicles, like antibodies. Designing linkers, which carry payloads safely through the plasma and degrade in a self-immolating manner inside cancer cells only, has become a sophisticated and challenging business field, both from a scientific and also commercial point of view. 

Your latest addition to your portfolio, the Life Sciences and Diagnostics, is it still the smallest part of what you do? 

– Smallest, yes, nonetheless an important part of our portfolio. We provide substrates, metabolites, inhibitors and inducers, natural products with biological and pharmacological activity, as well as dyes and fluorescent labels that are used as tools in immunology, biochemistry and molecular biology. We add innovative compounds on almost a daily basis. As an example, one of them, the Indocyanine Green (ICG), is an FDA approved dye, which is accepted for applications in human.

With a catalogue of some 7000 products and adding up to a hundred new compounds every month, Iris Biotech is a treasure throwe for scientists and manufacturers in the wide fields of biotech. As the biopharma manufacturing industry is moving towards personalized medicine, have you seen it impact your business?

– Yes, of course! We see a growing demand for tailor-made compounds and solutions. As a result, we reinforced our Custom Synthesis capabilities in 2013. We want to support our customers in their needs and I’m happy to say that we offer profound expertise in custom manufacturing of complex compounds, such as rare chiral building blocks, sophisticated orthogonal protecting groups, heterocycles, PEGs and PEG-analogues. 

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

– We basically have two types of customers: the industry and academia. As universities have pretty much had no activity in the latest months, their procuring of substances from us has, of course, dwindled. However, because of the same reason, Covid-19, our industrial customers are putting a lot of effort into fighting this new disease, meaning they procure more from us than ever before. On the whole, we basically have business as usual. Besides that many have turned to us from the cheapest possible sources, because they appreciate our sustainable approach of maintaining the supply of high-quality compounds, still within reasonable pricing.

You entered Japan in the year of 2002. What were your thoughts and impressions on Japan prior to that? 

– Businesswise, we have never had any issues in Japan. All countries have their certain local characteristics and still are more or less the same when it comes to doing business. If you are well prepared, you will be rewarded. For Japan, we collected as much information in advance as we could concerning potential partners, customers and business culture. I felt very well prepared because we knew the players, the KOL’s, we had started to network and we had decided upon our strategy. 

How do you think Japan is different from other markets and how often do you travel to Japan? 

– In a way, Japan is not different from any market. If you try to do business in the USA and haven’t prepared well, it is going to be problematic for you. Same thing for any market: if you don’t know how your business area operates and how to do business, then you will not succeed. The Japanese market represents a decent part of our total sales. In a typical year, I travel there a couple of times, usually stay for two weeks which gives me the opportunity to enjoy the unique cultural heritage and Japanese atmosphere, food culture, and saké. You know, the things I can’t enjoy at home. Japan has definitely become one of my favourite places to go to. 

– One of the biggest hurdles, I would say, is besides language barriers the impracticalities of timezone differences. This is another reason, why you need a local partner for doing business efficiently and successfully. 

When it comes to being successful when exporting to Japan, what are your best tips for the ones coming after you? 

– Make sure you are working with local personnel, who are your partners. It is important – as everywhere on this globe – to listen accurately to your partners and being open to adapt to the local requirements. I have experienced that people are in general very friendly, nevertheless tell you openly and clearly, what is required and what needs to be changed and adapted! That is probably the most important thing, which I found to be true also for every other place in the world.  

One problem that is plaguing many Europeans is their weakness when it comes to actually sell and strut your stuff. How do you sell? 

– We follow our focus, always: Empowering Peptide Innovation. With this guiding theme in mind, we attend the right conferences, symposia and exhibitions every year. This allows us to remain in direct contact with our existing and future customers as well as the KOL’s of the industry. We exchange knowledge and gather new ideas to tackle the customer’s current challenges. This dialogue with the industry and academia automatically leads to new and increased sales for us. It’s important to engage in a dialogue that is useful. 

With this, we say thank you to Thomas Bruckdorfer, CSO of Iris Biotech GmbH in Germany. 

Iris Biotech GmbH is a renowned, globally active company for innovation and know-how in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Starting in 2001 with a small range of commodities for peptides, Iris Biotech meanwhile developed its portfolio to a unique list of standard reagents and unusual building blocks for various life science applications. Our custom synthesis products as well as our portfolio in drug discovery, drug delivery, and diagnostics are available in laboratory quantities for the research sector up to multi ton scales. Those capabilities highlight Iris Biotech GmbH as valued partner for your success.

Having a holistic view of the world of peptides, Iris Biotech GmbH is today the number one address for any unusual compound required for the modification of peptides. Our mission as qualified supplier is to support customers in their ongoing projects from research scale to commercial production by providing the most novel substances and latest technologies together with the required analytics and documentation.

REad more on Iris biotech’s homepage, here!