Zeta Biopharma or how the EU's Risk Sharing Instrument Translates into Innovation and Growth

Thursday, 20 February, 2014
Zeta Biopharma is a medium-sized Austrian company that manufactures high-tech plants used in the pharmaceutical industry. Zeta has recently taken advantage of the EU’s Risk Sharing Instrument (RSI) to finance the development of its business.
Zeta designs and constructs tailor-made plants for liquid aseptic manufacturing processes used by large pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines, injections and medical drugs used to fight major diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, influenza and polio. An aseptic process is one by which a sterile pharmaceutical product is packaged in a sterile container in such a way that its sterility is maintained.

‘All kind of micro-organisms are in our natural environment and these are able to influence processes and therefore affect the medical product negatively,’ explains Zeta’s Managing Director, Dr Karl-Franz Maier. ‘Our equipment is designed to prevent any contamination for many weeks of operation and is therefore the foundation of a successful biopharmaceutical production process.’

Zeta is one of only two companies in Europe that use ‘freeze and thaw’ containers for the storage and transport of substances. These containers are technologically advanced, Dr Maier stresses. ‘This container is a high tech product in terms of its hygienic design, surface quality, cleanability and its stainless steel quality.’

Pharmaceutical substances can be frozen in a controller storage facility for years from which they can be sent to markets worldwide. These substances are extremely valuable. For example, Dr Maier notes that a monoclonal antibody of the newest generation for cancer treatment in a 300 litre container is worth up to EUR 10 million. ‘Due to the high value of the content and quality risks like cross-contamination, microbiological risks, and so on, customers will use only highly qualified and experienced suppliers to the pharma industry.’

Zeta’s Success

Zeta was founded in 1989, and now has 237 employees in its offices in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Russia. It manufactures the plants in modular design with state-of-the-art equipment at its production site in Lieboch, Graz. From there they are transported to operation sites across Europe and elsewhere where they are then installed and commissioned.

Zeta’s success is based on a number of factors, including its considerable experience, having the flexibility of an SME and possessing specialist know-how. It is also able to provide an integrated range of services, from the conceptual design of the process right through to the installation, validation and commissioning of the plant. This enables Zeta to provide its customers with their equipment in the shortest possible time.

Zeta’s products provide pharma companies with significant benefits. ‘The most advanced biopharmaceutical industry, which manufactures APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) against cancer, diabetes, arthritis and many other diseases which have not been treatable in the past, is highly dependent on a supplier like Zeta,’ Dr Maier explains. ‘We have the ability to scale up processes and equipment from laboratory scale to industrial production scale.’

Moreover, he notes, ‘the biopharmaceutical sector will be the growth accelerator in the pharma business for the next decades.’

RSI Loan

Despite its achievements, Zeta still has difficulty in securing loans, which it needs to cover its high working capital requirements during the long lead times in plant engineering and manufacturing. However, with a 50% European Investment Fund (EIF) guarantee under the RSI, Zeta was granted a EUR 2.5 million working capital loan by UniCredit Bank Austria.

The RSI guarantee funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) complements the national research promotion schemes in Austria and helps the company to implement additional R&D projects and to achieve faster growth.

The RSI guarantee was essential, Dr Maier stressed. ‘Since our company cannot offer high equity ratios or securities the RSI guarantee was a precondition for the granted loan. The loan itself was a precondition to obtain orders with a single value of more than EUR 5 million and to pre-finance the labour and material costs for up to 18 months.’

Moreover, Dr Maier found the process flowed smoothly. ‘We were very impressed how pragmatic and simple the whole procedure was executed by Bank Austria and the EIF.’
Zeta Biopharma