October 30, 2013

A Word With the Boss: CEO protects pet health with affordable drugs

Jean Hoffman saw a need to be filled and founded Putney to make generic meds dispensed by veterinarians

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Jean Hoffman, founder of a Portland company that makes generic pet drugs, has two cats and a child with lots of fish.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Q: Was there a lot of competition?

A: The generics weren’t getting approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). There were few submissions and few approvals and there were very few companies devoted to it. You have to sell to veterinarians and provide service and support to the vets. The products also have to be tested and approved specifically for the animals, which is difficult. It’s comparable in rigor (to drug trials for human medications) and there’s a lot of science involved.

I like big challenges, and I have assembled a team here at Putney who like big challenges and get satisfaction in solving problems. It takes an attitude of “we’re going to take this hill and tomorrow we’re going to take another hill and we’ll keep on going.” It takes a team of people with development and manufacturing and regulatory expertise who understand and have experience selling. 

Q: Were you able to find people in Maine with those skills?

A: We recruited our team from outside the state of Maine and had to attract people and get them and their families to come to Maine.

Once people come to Maine and see what it’s like to raise a family here, it’s easy, but getting people to relocate is never easy. Education is important, along with the cultural mix and the diversity of activities. It’s a very highly educated group, so educational opportunities for their children are very important. It continues to be a worry and a hope on my part that the city of Portland and surrounding communities continue to invest in education. 

Q: How hard was it to get started, and does the process for approval get easier with time and experience?

A: The first product that got approval from our pipeline was an antibiotic. It’s a cephalosporin and they are related to penicillin. We’ve invested a great deal of money there, tens of millions of dollars, building the expert teams to do the best job we can. Getting drugs through the FDA is very difficult for a reason, because safety is involved and the FDA has an important job to do in improving safety. 

Q: How difficult is it to sell vets on generics?

A: Vets are very receptive to generics because they tend to be kind-hearted people who love animals and they see the numbers (on the rising cost of veterinary care). But because there are so few generics approved, there’s a lot of education needed to help vets understand generic drugs. Human drugs are largely paid for by insurance companies and they mandate switching to generics. The insurance companies have knowledgeable people who understand that generics are the same as branded drugs. In the case of vets, they both prescribe and dispense drugs, so they have to be aware that the drugs are the same. It’s really all about helping them understand that.

Q: How many generic drugs do you have on the market and what’s the outlook for growth?

A: For FDA-approved products, we have four on the market and one more coming soon. We’re on line with our growth projections, and we plan to move to two floors in One Monument Square because we have a lot more people we need to hire and we can’t fit them in our current space. We plan to be well over $150 million in sales in five years. 

Q: Do you have pets? 

A: I have two cats, one of whom is featured in all of our corporate presentations. And my daughter has quite a few fish. 

Q: Is anyone in your family a vet?

A: My dad once gave my goldfish heart massage. The fish was gasping and not swimming and I remember my dad took the fish out of the tank and massaged its heart and brought it back to life.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:emurphy@pressherald.comemurphy@pressherald.com

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