Exclusive Interview: BICO’s New Bioprinting Era under Maria Forss Begins

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In the dynamic landscape of life sciences, Maria Forss has taken the helm as the new CEO of BICO (STO: BICO), a name that emerged from bioprinting pioneer Cellink and has been making waves for its innovative approach to biotech. After assuming her role as CEO and President on November 20, 2023, Forss went on an extensive tour to dive deep into the essence of BICO’s operations, visiting many of the companies under its umbrella. Through this initiative, she aimed to understand the businesses and build a solid foundation to lead the company forward.

“We have many opportunities ahead; I think the increased focus on personalized and regenerative medicine is one key trend for BICO, as is the increased adoption of bioprinting, not only in the pharma industry but also in the cosmetic industry and the growing demand for both integrated and automated workflows in laboratories,” shared Forss during an interview with 3DPrint.com.

Building on Forss’s vision, it’s clear that BICO is talking about more than just future possibilities. The company is actively shaping the future of biotech and healthcare today. With subsidiaries like Cellink, BICO is already pushing the boundaries in developing 3D tissues and organs that could revolutionize healthcare and pharmaceutical testing. Additionally, its advancements in laboratory automation, through technologies such as the Green Button Go (GBG) software, streamline complex lab processes, making research more efficient and reliable. These efforts underline the synergy between BICO’s expertise and its subsidiaries, improving its strategy to meet the growing demands of the pharma and cosmetic industries driving the future of medicine and scientific discovery.

Cellink bioprinters.

Cellink creates bioprinters. Image courtesy of Cellink/BICO.

CEO Transition

Before Forss became CEO, co-founder Erik Gatenholm stepped down but remains on the Board. Today, Forss brings a lot of experience and a fantastic track record, helping the company turn the page to start a new chapter.

Forss explains that BICO, previously on a spree of acquisitions under its former leadership, is now shifting gears towards consolidation and streamlining its operations. She highlights that the company’s strategy is not just to continue acquiring businesses but also to seek growth through collaborations and partnerships. She mentions an ongoing cooperation with Sartorius (ETR: SRT3), a leading pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment supplier, to boost commercial efficiency.

“We are in a year of consolidation, and for now, the main focus will be to ensure the consolidation is continuing and enhance the company’s professionalism. But of course, there is a longer-term plan as well. I reported four new strategic areas to tap into until we present an updated strategic plan. One of those is to drive commercial excellence. Moreover, we will explore the different opportunities to identify collaborations and partnerships further. This strategy allows us to grow the business without just buying companies.”

Forss also discussed BICO’s diverse clientele, from big pharma like AstraZeneca (BCBA: AZN) to academia and beyond.

“One of the beauties with the portfolio is that we’re not solely dependent on a specific customer segment or geographical market. We are working with big pharma, as well as with researchers in academia and other sectors, which proved beneficial in a challenging year like 2023,” points out Forss.

Despite a softer market in 2023, BICO managed to maintain sales levels and do so profitably, as Forss noted. Last year, BICO reported a mix of financial shifts. Sales in Q4 took a slight dip, with a 4.4% decrease in the previous quarter, settling at SEK 636.6 million ($61,7 million), a bit down from the last year. Despite this, the company’s efficiency in turning revenue into profit improved, with a stronger EBITDA of SEK 95.1 million ($9.2 million), marking a higher profit margin than before.

Lab engineer using 3D bioprinting for life sciences applications.

There is an increased demand from labs for automation, robustness and accessibility. Image courtesy of BICO.

Core Innovations

Lab automation was another area highlighted by Forss as a key trend in the pharmaceutical industry, with BICO at the forefront, offering cutting-edge software solutions. One of the most relevant achievements was landing the largest order in the company’s history, a $28 million deal for lab flow orchestration with a major pharmaceutical company, with BICO’s subsidiary Biosero at the forefront.

Forss also shared how BICO’s solutions have allowed another big pharma player, AstraZeneca, to significantly boost its lab productivity and efficiency, focusing on a broader industry trend toward reducing animal testing and embracing lab automation. At the 42nd annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference last January, Forss had already pointed out BICO’s role in revolutionizing drug development with a focus on AstraZeneca. She described how Biosero’s GBG technology streamlined lab operations, integrating disjointed processes into a seamless workflow. This automation sped up development by 75%, quadrupled equipment efficiency, and at least doubled scientists’ productivity. By introducing this tech, AstraZeneca’s complex biopharmaceutical manufacturing processes became more efficient.

“One buzzword this year is lab automation, and fortunately, BICO has the golden standard in terms of software for orchestrating lab flows with our GBG software, which makes a difference for the customers. Fortunately, BICO acquired Biosero in 2021, which is known for its GBG software, which automates and integrates laboratory workflows.”

Nasdaq Stockholm sign announces Bico to begin trading on the exchange.

Rebranded bioprinting firm Cellink begins trading as BICO on Nasdaq Stockholm. Image courtesy of BICO.

Strategic Directions

Beyond the corporate strides, Forss also shared her journey in the life sciences sector, bringing over 25 years of experience to her role at BICO. Her extensive background in pharma, MedTech, and global operations gives her a comprehensive toolbox to lead BICO into its next chapter. Forss’s vision for BICO is clear: leveraging its rich portfolio and unique market position to significantly impact life-saving research and development.

Despite recent challenges and media attention surrounding BICO, Forss is firmly focused on the future. She outlined four strategic priorities for the company: driving commercial excellence, conducting a strategic review to align with the market landscape, investing in people and culture, and continuing operational excellence initiatives.

Following this strategic direction, BICO had to make some tough decisions last year, letting go of almost 200 people to focus its efforts better and ensure it was moving in the right direction. Despite these changes, the company is on a learning and development journey, equipping its teams with the best tools and training, especially since it has a lot of young talent stepping into leadership roles. Forss says BICO is working hard to ensure everyone’s on the same page, streamlining the processes across all operational companies.

This way, we can work together more smoothly and make the most of what we’ve got. Plus, we’re keeping a tight grip on our spending, having already cut costs by SEK 100 million ($9.7 million) last year. But it’s not just about spending less; it’s about spending smarter. We’re keeping a close eye on everything from managing our stock to running our projects, all while getting our tech systems like ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] up to scratch to help our teams do even better. This focus on smart work and spending is guiding us into 2024.”

Moreover, Forss’ passion for the life sciences industry shines through as a mission to contribute to meaningful advancements in healthcare. Her blend of operational expertise and strategic vision sets the stage for BICO’s continued success and innovation in a rapidly evolving sector. As she puts it, “The challenge is not just fun but incredibly rewarding,” promising a bright future for BICO under her guidance.

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