#MedicureTurns25: A Conversation with our CEO as we celebrate 25 years

September 9, 2022


This month, Medicure turns 25 years old. Medicure's CEO Albert D. Friesen reflects on the company's 25th anniversary, his experience, and what lies ahead.


Did you have a goal in mind when you created Medicure 25 years ago?

Albert Friesen: "I had three goals in mind when I started Medicure:

1. To develop the idea of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate as a drug to successful commercialization. I had led the successful development of WinRho as my first job.

2. To learn and establish a marketing business for the U.S. market. My career at that stage had been mainly drug development.

3. To develop a business based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba with long-term sustainability."


When looking back over the past 25 years, what are you most proud of for the company?

"Looking back, I would say the fact that Medicure was able to survive and flourish through a very challenging period in 2008 when the pivotal Phase 3 trial of MC-1 did not achieve its primary end point. From the start of development in 1997 through 2008, we had raised $140 million and our super Medicure team drove the development of MC-1 from an idea, through pre-clinical studies, Phase 1's, several Phase 2's, and then to the pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial seeking FDA approval for a very large, unmet market: protection against ischemic reperfusion injury in cardiovascular patients undergoing bypass surgery. At the time we unlocked the data, we only had sufficient cash to carry on the existing business for about 6 months. In a very challenging time, the team pivoted to focus on marketing AGGRASTAT: a Merck developed product we bought in 2006 to survive. We survived what is sometimes referred to in our business as the "winter of discontent" with little or no money to grow AGGRASTAT."

"Despite the odds against us, the team grew AGGRASTAT sales from 2% of the U.S. glycoprotein 2b/3a inhibitor market to over 65%. Again, we had and continue to have the incredible team that DID this."

Albert D. Friesen, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Medicure Inc.


What has changed in the past 25 years for the specialty pharmaceutical business in Canada?

"With drug price control in Canada, the margins for the specialty pharmaceutical business has declined. The Canadian specialty pharma business is not large enough to have the resources to develop new drugs with greater margins. The investment community has this view as well so the public market for specialty pharma is very, very weak; this is why Medicure has focused on the U.S. market, and despite a challenging business environment for Canadian specialty pharma, Manitoba has an excellent and well-educated talent base for employees – I believe we can do anything and everything from here in Winnipeg."


When you look forward to the next 25 years for Medicure, what are your hopes for the Company?

"My hope is that Medicure will diversify its revenue stream with stable and steady growth year over year. Secondly, that Medicure will continue to create jobs and opportunities for Manitobans and that the headquarters and main operations continue from Winnipeg."


What do you think has been the most significant return for investors since Medicure's inception?

"Medicure's share price has fluctuated a lot over the past 25 years. Some made money on the way up and some lost money on the way down. I believe we're going through a growth phase again as we diversify our revenue stream from multiple sources and start to see growth with ZYPITAMAG and Marley Drug. There's also a lot of excitement here at Medicure as MC-1 is about to enter a Phase 3 study targeting treatment of a rare pediatric disease."


One of Medicure's core values is a focus on community. Is there a memory you have that speaks to this value?

"Providing local jobs is very important to me. It provides satisfying, quality career opportunities for this community. When I set up Medicure, I donated a significant portion of my shares to both the University of Manitoba and St. Boniface Hospital Research Foundation, each cashing in the shares for around $300,000 to $400,000. The Medicure team has participated in annual fundraising events for the Heart & Stroke Foundation; Medicure staff donate to the Fort Garry Women's Resource Centre; Medicure staff contribute to the Annual Christmas Cheer Board fundraiser. I had suggested many years ago that the Winnipeg Rh Institute establish an Annual Rh Award from royalty from WinRho and these Awards continue to this day. My goal, when Medicure can afford it, is to establish an Annual Grant to the University of Manitoba."


Medicure is entering a Phase 3 study for a rare pediatric disease. What would it mean to you, personally, and for the company, to receive an approval based on this study?

"From inception, one of my three goals for Medicure was to develop an idea through to full commercial scale; a drug to save lives that is financially viable. The original idea that was introduced to me by Dr. N. Dhalla, was the use of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate to protect against ischemic reperfusion injury of the heart. The original drug used has not worked out as of yet, but our Medicure research team came up with a pediatric application, which does save lives and meets a very significant need, albeit, in a very small population. Meeting this need also provides a significant financial reward to Medicure, which provides the satisfaction of success for Medicure and myself personally; it will provide financial stability for Medicure and the further opportunity to develop the pyridoxal 5'-phosphate technology for several other big needs and big markets."


Medicure is based in Winnipeg, Canada. Why did you decide that this was the right place to grow and maintain the business?

"One of my personal goals in business is job creation in the local community. I am a big fan of growing the biotech/pharma business with jobs in Manitoba. This province is my home and my family's."

"I want to help build Manitoba to be a better place for families, business professionals, and a center for highly qualified scientists with expertise to make a difference."

Albert D. Friesen, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Medicure Inc.


A core value of Medicure is a focus on People. What traits do you look for when deciding what people should work for the Company?

"Medicure has adopted the concept of "A Heart for Life". We invite individuals that have an interest and hopefully a passion for working in a business that improves people's lives. We look for individuals with a positive attitude, an aptitude for the position within the company, integrity, a good work ethic, and as mentioned, hopefully a passion for the service of others. At Medicure, our mission is to serve patients by delivering safe and efficacious life-changing medicines."


You have started many companies – what is your advice on starting a business, and what are some common pitfalls to avoid?

"The basis of any successful business is a good or even great technology or product with the potential to meet an unmet market. This is then partnered with a rational business approach. To commercialize an idea, it is important to do one's homework on the following aspects: Is there a market for the product? What is the competition? What is the market and how big is the market? What is the cost and time to develop the idea to commercialization? One of the things I like to do is to visualize the end product; this enables one to evaluate the market, competition, etc. One of the most common pitfalls is underestimating the time and cost of development. A second common pitfall is overspending or wasting the resources that are available/raised/invested. Medicure does focus on these aspects with good technology/products married with a good rational business approach, and has been and continues to be blessed with highly skilled and motivated staff."


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