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Ex-Allergan CEO Joins Parent of Botox Rival

Hugel Picks Brent Saunders as Chairman

Another new competitor to Botox is emerging in Newport Beach.

Hugel Inc., a South Korean medical aesthetics company, is convening an extraordinary general shareholders’ meeting to appoint Brent Saunders as a non-executive director. Once his appointment is approved at the shareholders’ meeting on June 29, it is expected that he will serve as the chairman of its board, Hugel said in a statement.

Saunders previously served as chairman and chief executive of Allergan from 2015 until its 2020 acquisition by AbbVie for $63 billion.

“I am excited to join the world-class team at Hugel and CBC to continue building a global leader in medical aesthetics,” Saunders said in a statement. “With their commitment to operational excellence, customer service and R&D, our future is very bright.”

Hugel and Croma-Pharma GmbH, an Austrian-based company focused on minimally aesthetic medicine, in 2018 formed a joint venture, Hugel America Inc., which is based in Newport Beach, to develop and commercialize botulinum toxin, hyaluronic acid fillers, and additional aesthetic portfolio products in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ve been stealthy for a while,” Hugel America President James Hartman told the Business Journal.

Hartman has a long pedigree in the industry, serving as head of U.S. sales for Allergan’s dermatology unit when it launched Botox in 2002.

Hugel America has also picked up another experienced Allergan executive, Ryan Irvine, its vice president of medical affairs, who previously worked at the Botox maker from 2003 to 2008, including as director of global competitive strategy in medical affairs.

Another Allergan veteran, David Moatazedi, who was head of its Aesthetics division in Irvine, in 2018 jumped to Newport Beach’s Evolus Inc. (Nasdaq: EOLS), a seller of a wrinkle remover. Evolus is finally seeing its sales explode after years of promise and a settlement with larger rival Allergan. Evolus’ sales soared 76% to $99.7 million in 2021 and are expected to climb another 49% to $148.5 million this year.

Allergan, once headquartered in Irvine, is the manufacturer of wrinkle remover Botox, the world’s top-selling botulinum toxin brand. Since 2020, the company’s top local executive has been Carrie Strom, who is a senior vice president, AbbVie, and president, Global Allergan Aesthetics.

“It’s a bit of family mapping,” Hartman said about the local connections to Allergan. “We live in an area that exemplifies medical aesthetics.”

The three companies all are competitors with slightly different offerings, he said.
“Everyone has their own slightly different target arena,” Hartman said. “It’s the same playbook, different color.

“We of course believe we’ll win the hearts and minds of the clinicians that we work closely with.”

Companywide, he expects to grow from almost 40 to about 180 by the end of this year, including 140 in the U.S.


Hugel Consortium

Established in South Korea in 2001, Hugel said it’s leading the South Korean market for both botulinum toxin and HA filler products. Hugel is listed on the Korea Stock Exchange (145020.KQ) where it has a market cap around $425 million.

The company, which is distributing its medical aesthetic products in 47 countries globally, obtained its marketing approval for botulinum toxin, Letybo, in China in late 2020, and said it gained a 10% market share over its first year. Letybo was recently approved in Europe, and later this year, pending approval, plans to expand into additional markets, including Australia and Canada.

In the United States, Hugel is progressing toward FDA approval and commercialization in 2023.

Last August, a consortium led by Singapore-based CBC Group, Asia’s largest healthcare investment firm, acquired a 46.9% equity interest in Hugel from Bain Capital. Members of the consortium also include Mubadala Investment Company, an Abu Dhabi-based investor; GS Holdings Corp., a leading business group in South Korea; and IMM Investment Corp., a Korean firm that invest in alternative asset classes.

“We have strong confidence in Hugel’s global growth potential,” Michael Keyoung, head of CBC’s North America and Korea businesses, said in the statement.

“The addition of Brent Saunders is a significant milestone for propelling Hugel towards remarkable and sustainable global growth, further solidifying Hugel’s efforts to advance into the global market.”

Saunders, who was CEO of Actavis PLC when it acquired Allergan, has a long pedigree in healthcare such as serving as CEO of Forest Laboratories and chairman and CEO of Bausch + Lomb Inc.

“He’s a transactional wizard,” Hartman said. “We’re really thrilled to have Mr. Saunders be part of our company. It’s quite an evolutionary moment in our company.”

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

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