Mixture of languages
This story happened during our time at the Instituto Pasteur of Lisbon in the Rua Nova do Almada where Mr. Villax carried out his research work.
He was still learning Portuguese and when he didn’t know a given word, he would use French, a language in which he was fluent as he had lived and worked previously in Clèrmont-Ferrand (France).
One day Mr. Villax said to me: “go downstairs and bring me a glass bottle with “chiffres (horns in Portuguese) on the cork”. It was difficult for me not to laugh but I knew M. Villax did not play at work and I knew a little French. He obviously meant “chiffres” (numbers in French) as the glass bottles were usually identified with numbers marked on the stoppers. This story was the talk of Pasteur and I still find it funny today.
Certain things can never be forgotten!
June 1960. I was 17 and had worked since I was 13. I started by earning Esc. 300 a month (today €1.50) and at the time earned Esc. 900 a month (€4.50). I studied in the evening and found time to play basketball.
A friend asked me if I wanted to go and work for a recently established company which seemed to have a future. Of course I was interested and went for an interview with Mr. Villax at Travessa do Moinho de Vento, in the Lapa district.
The proposal was very clear: clerical work, both in and outside the office (post office, banks, deliveries… whatever was necessary!) A 15 days trial period and salary of Esc. 1,500 a month. A nice surprise! Obviously, I accepted and spent my holidays working.
The first fortnight was sufficient to understand that the “boss” was the first to give the example and how!. A good salary – compared to the average for those days and for someone with my qualifications. He was demanding but, most important, showed me how everything should be done!
The office was small (4 x 3,5m2), where I worked with Mr. and Mrs. Villax, and Manuela Moura, the secretary.
There was constant background music – children crying. Peter nearly two years old and Guy a few months accompanied by Arminda, the maid, singing. She kept on telling me “You won’t survive more than a few months, they are very demanding”. How wrong she was. This happened over 47 years’ ago.
Ivan Villax - a great Gentleman who will not be forgotten
Hovione’s 50 years. Since we spoke about a month ago, I have been thinking about the matter. I must confess that given our short commercial relationship, there is not much of interest that I can recount concerning Hovione. However, this does not apply to Ivan Villax himself who left me with a very clear and unforgettable image of rare calm and kindness.
Beginning with the way he received me at Instituto Pasteur – Rua Nova do Almada,- when I was still an apprentice salesman as well as when we met at his laboratory, in Travessa do Ferreiro, where I saw him complete with hardhat and mask carrying out a chemical reaction within the labyrinth of tubes and glass. Or, again, at the end of an afternoon, how he interrupted an important meeting with Roussel Uclaf’s agent because it was time to take his son to a judo lesson – this made history in Paris. Always calm, attentive and kind. Technically one of the five best scientists in the World in the field of corticosteroids, such was the opinion of Upjohn’s Technical Director. To the end a great gentleman one can never forget.
Manufacture of the Pantofenicol® in the garden hut belonging to Asclepius Laboratory
Mr. Villax invited me to work with him and I started in November 1960. He told me he was going to set up a laboratory; it would be a marriage, if it went well it would be good for all, if not, too bad. By the way, I must say that before accepting Mr. Villax’s proposal, an offer of Escudos 600.00 a month, considerably more than I was earning at the time at Pasteur, I spoke to Mr. Teisseire. He had got me the job at Pasteur and was one of the directors. I asked him if I should accept the offer and Mr. Teisseire replied “Go, Mr. Villax is bright and will be successful”.
When we started producing Pantofenicol, we had nothing. Mr. Villax told Mr. Simões to go to Braz and Braz and buy a large and strong aluminum pan. Later we went to Federico Bonet to buy glassware and a vacuum pump. This all went to Asclepius Laboratory, in the Av. Miguel Bombarda. They had rented out to us a hut in their backyard and that is where I, alone, manufactured Pantofenicol. It had been one of my jobs at Pasteur so I know how to manufacture this product. Everything was prepared and poured into a vessel, put in a paraffin bath, later distilled, concentrated and precipitated.
At one moment, when we had no ethylenechloride for the precipitation, I reminded Mr. Villax that once at Pasteur we had been successful in precipitating with chloroform. From then onwards that was what we used. I obtained about 4 kilos per day from beginning to end of the process. We imported the cloranfenicol and the calcium pantotenate.
Pasteur sold Pantofenicol within Portugal; however, Mr. Villax had the right to sell it abroad, after their six month option. From Asclepius Laboratory the product was sold to Spain and Italy.
Angelina and I married in August ’61 and in September we went, by car with Mr. Villax to work at Fermentfarma, near Milan. I remember going to Chinoin, in Italy, upon our return from Fermentfarma to teach them to manufacture Pantofencol, as Mr. Villax had concluded an agreement with them.
Not a "nuclear" reactor!
In the long ago age of the 60s, the procedures required by official entities were complex and lengthy. To make matters worse, Hovione was a young firm and, therefore, relatively unknown.
Import procedures were about the most complcated, requiring licences from various different departments, the submission of endless forms, all correctly filled in otherwise they were immediately returned (by mail) to be corrected and resubmitted.
Any equipment to be imported required an import licence, issued by the Department of Commerce. The item had to be described, most precisely, in great detail or the delay in issuance was even greater.
I remember one of the glass vessels purchased from EIVS was described as a ""reactor"". Result: the Department of Commerce requested a report from the Nuclear Energy Committee!!
The importation of products was also a complicated process. First, we had to apply for the import licence from the Regulatory Authority for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Substances. When the product arrived, we had to return armed with a collection of related documents: the licence, the invoice, and the shipping document, for approval. If anything was incorrect, it involved returning the following day and waiting in the queue all over again.
There was only one solution: right first time. We took this seriously. No mistakes, all regulations were carefully studied, queries posed - we did out homework and it worked. We stopped wasting time with corrections and Hovione became known as a competent firm.
Eventually, this decision produced results in the form of the excellent relationships we established with all entities we had to work with over the years: The Industrial Property Department, the Loures Municipality, the Foreign Investment Institute and later those government organizations connected with the approval of the European Community Funds.
Here we met first class professionals, very demanding but open and ready to help as they quickly understood that Hovione did not just appear correct, but actually was a credible and trustworthy company.
The beginning of my career
Ivan Villax was one of the founders and the foundation of Hovione, and for more than four decades (1960-2003) I had the great privilege of being his secretary. Here and now, I would like to pay tribute to a great Man of Science for whom, I must say, I always felt the greatest admiration and affection.
It was during the “wild” 60’s and although I was still a teenager, I realized the problems that were affecting the young people in search of their ideals, which, in my case, did not really include working. I had never really considered working, which was for men only, but by a happy coincidence I saw an ad in the Diario de Noticias newspaper asking for a bilingual secretary. I decided to answer and was accepted. After all these years it was certainly the right choice thanks to the richness of knowledge acquired through my work with Mr. Villax at Hovione.
I started work on the 2nd December of 1960 at Trav. do Moinho de Vento, in a small office, as small was, also, Hovione at that time. Everything was new to me but with a lot of effort I quickly got into the rhythm. At college I had learned to type on a machine dating back to World War II. I must say that the electric typewriter I was given to work on frightened me rather. It was so much faster and a mere touch on the wrong key made me jump. Luckily, Radex, already existed with which we corrected the mistakes.
Looking back over 50 years, in this highly technological era, few will remember or imagine the horrors of carbon paper. Apart from the telephone, the quickest form of communication in those days; we had the telegram to advise the client of delivery. All the text was spelled out, letter by letter, to Marconi. Maybe, some will remember Eunice Muñoz’s sketch which portrayed this ridiculous situation.
Photocopies were made with most complicated equipment, similar to that used in photography. The document was photographed and then dipped into a special solution after which it had to be allowed to dry.
I have nearly forgotten about the famous stamped paper used for all official documents. It cost Esc.5.00 a sheet and no mistakes were permitted. There was no express mail, telex or fax, let alone word processors, computers or all current means of electronic communication.
We were a small team. Besides me, there was Armando Simões, in charge of contacts with official entities and other administrative jobs; Armindo Santos, laboratory technician, who had worked with Mr. Villax in the Pasteur Institute. Thus we continued until, in March of 1962, we moved to Travessa do Ferreiro, just nearby.
Hovione has always been in the frontline. From the beginning it was flexible and innovative, applying for tens and then hundreds of patents throughout the World. Later, there were the social benefits, such as a productivity bonus, free transport and meals which included 1 litre of milk a day for all employees as well as health and life insurance and a resident doctor and nurse.
Up to that time only Peter and Guy had been born. I remember the latter, still a baby, crawling up the two steps to our office, but someone would come quickly and take him away so as not to disturb our work. After we moved to Travessa do Ferreiro, Sofia and Miguel were born.
The house was more roomy and Mr. Villax had his own office. Shortly after Angelina Santos, Armindo’s husband, Arlete Santos, Rosado Oliveira and Manuel Moreira would join us.
First years - Laboratory Asclepius and Travessa do Ferreiro
I joined Hovione on the 10th April 1961 and started working in the outhouse in Lab. Asclepius' back yard. Since 1951 I had been working with Mr. Villax at Instituto Pasteur as his laboratory assistant. When we moved to Travessa do Ferreiro we didn’t even have packing materials for our equipment. Glassware, stainless steel pans, electric stoves, measuring equipment, everything came in jute bags. The large glass vessel came in a box given by Asclepius.
I soon started to work on cortisones. We had already commenced in this field at Pasteur but they had not shown any interest in continuing along this line. Mr. Villax had invented a molecule, to which he gave the name of Hexacortizone that, although not a steroid had an anti-inflammatory action without secondary effect. He tried to get it developed with partnerships, but Hovione was so small no business was ever concluded.
The cortisone production processes were very complicated and difficult. It was necessary to make many assays before succeeding. In relation to Betamethsone for instance, any small alteration, of quantities or temperature, changed the outcome. Often we had to stay until late to see the outcome of a given reaction. When Mr. Villax found us in the lab. late at night he would give us Esc. 100 to get supper. The work was not easy, one of the reasons being the constant cuts in electricity. If we were in the middle of a reaction that involved stirring and, suddenly, there was no electricity, that was the end of the batch!
We started the manufacture of small quantities of cortisones (never more than 100gr) for export, in Travessa do Ferreiro. One day, a small package, ready to leave, was sitting on Mr. Villax’s secretary’s desk. He became annoyed over something, banged his fist on the desk with such bad luck that the package of the product broke open. There was creamy white dust everywhere. We collected what we could. It had to be repurified and to make up the quantity required we added the small sample we usually kept in the laboratory for reference.
Rosado and Arlete, had also been joined the team coming from Pasteur. Alberto, one of Pasteur’s mechanics also joined us. Rosado undertook the analyses and Arlete helped in the laboratory. I still remember filling pantofenicol capsules with some prehistoric machine.
There was also the episode involving a production line of an antibiotic from Italy that was put into capsules at Laboratórios Victoria, then the capsules were packed in aluminium sheets at some other firm. These had to be packed in little packages together with the corresponding leaflets. The packages had to be put into large boxes and then into crates for shipment to Vietnam. All this took place in the Villax dining room.
A heart of gold
I had worked with Mr. Villax in Instituto Pasteur of Lisbon as from his arrival in Portugal at the end of 1951. At the end of the 50’s I decided to go and work in Angola. When the terrorist attacks started, Mr. Villax sent a message via Angelina as to whether I would like to return to Portugal in view of the bad situation out there and join Hovione which was a company with a future. If necessary he would advance the money for the return trip to Lisbon.
I started to work at Hovione in July of 1961 and lived in Almada. A cousin of mine, a fisherman in the Algarve, with wife and family, fell ill and had to be transferred to a Lisbon hospital. He came with his wife and son. His stay in hospital was long and when he was finally well enough to leave, his small savings were exhausted. He did not have enough money to return home.
I offered to accompany the family to the Social Services to ask for help and naturally requested leave of absence from work from Mr. Villax, telling him the reason. Mr. Villax was so upset by the story of this family that he opened his wallet and took out a Esc. 500 note and asked me to give it to them. In the following day Mrs. Villax gave me some clothes for the couple’s son.
A few days later, Mr. Villax received a letter from my cousin thanking for the “generous gift from a heart of gold”.
It remains to say that Esc. 500 represented at the time, 1/3 of my month’s salary.
Home Industry at Travessa do Ferreiro
My sister worked at Vista Alegre and one day she asked me if the company was going badly. The reason for this question was that Mrs. Villax had come into the store with her father to buy a dinner service. From the conversation my sister understood that Mrs. Villax’s father had already given her the money once but obviously it had been spent on other more necessary things!
Home Industry at Travessa do Ferreiro 1/3 - Pantofenicol and Cortisones
We continued to manufacture Pantofenicol, from mid 1962, in the basement of Travessa do Ferrerio No. 1. Once, we had a problem with a German drier, supposedly explosion proof that, in fact, blew up when there was product inside it drying. I remember being blown back several meters and covered in white dust. From then on, with the aid of the carpenter Celestino, Mr. Villax designed his own drier, a large cupboard with shelves in plywood, from the sides of which two tubes extended and at the end of each a domestic hairdryer was attached. It worked to perfection. There were no more explosions.
I did everything, produced, packed, took the packages to the Customs, went to the bank. At one moment we thought things were going badly and that was when we saw our lives going backwards. Both of us in the same firm and if we both found ourselves out of a job?!
Later, both our Spanish and our Italian clients started to produce Pantofenicol themselves. Professor Folch Jou of Promesa sent us a sample of Pantofenicol made by them with the analysis certificate and of fact it was perfect. They thanked us for our help.
We also started producing cortisones in Travessa do Ferreiro. Angelina, who had joined in 1961, helped Mr. Villax with the research and I prepared the product. First, hydrocortisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone and finally betamethasone. I worked alone.
A 200 litre drum would be put at the top of the stairs and with a tube the liquid, whatever it was, was transferred by gravity down to the basement where we worked.
I remember the night of the earthquake during the ‘’60s. Mrs. Villax was alone with the children as Mr.Villax was abroad so we came round to see if there were any problems. Fortunately so, as we found a jar of metallic sodium almost falling off a shelf. If it had fallen it would have caused a fire. A dangerous product, it reacted with humidity and burned in contact with air.
Later, we started to work with bigger amounts of steroids, and was necessary to install a reactor under the terrace. This was quite large and it was necessary to make a hole in the ground to have enough height. At this time we used tetrahidrofuran and fluoridric acid which came in small steel cylinders. The production process included a Gringnard reaction which was considered very dangerous. It was necessary to maintain the product at a certain temperature and the tendency was for it to heat up. Many kilos of ice were used to maintain it constant and thus avoid the overheating.
Thanks a lot, Snr. Engº.
It was 1963, I was 24 years old and had just arrived back from Angola after two years’ military service. At that time, the now extinct evening paper “Diario Popular” was involved in a campaign to try and find jobs for the young soldiers recently arrived from the ex-Colonies, which in a lucky moment, both Hovione and I had joined.
In September of 1963 I was summoned for an interview with Mr. Villax at Hovione, in the office at Travessa do Ferreiro 1. I remember it all as if it were today. Mrs. Villax sitting at her desk and Mr. Villax next door. I was well received and after a long interview, offered an experimental period of 3 months clerical work. The work involved both office work and errands (post office, banks, purchases, deliveries etc.etc.). In fact, exactly what Mr. Armando Simões did as he was off to do his military service and I was to replace him.
I started work immediately and realized how “demanding” Mr. Villax was. This way of thinking taught me, during the 37 years I worked at Hovione, always in close relationship with Mr. Villax, to fight against all difficulties and overcome the challenges both private and professional. To succeed it was necessary to follow his personal way of thinking, his professionalism, his honesty and to believe that by so doing, with much effort, I would succeed in achieving my objectives in life. That is, this great Man, prepared me as human being, to be ready to face everything in life. Thanks a lot, Snr. Engº.
A moment of panic!
One night at Travessa do Ferreiro No. 1, during the 60’s, Ivan away in Italy, I woke up and smelt something peculiar. What could it be? After a few seconds I realised it could only be some sort of solvent. Being very much a layman in the matter, it could have been any one of many solvents, but I was certain it was of the family of liquids I used to remove grease stains from clothes which, Ivan had always warned me, were either highly inflammable or explosive or both!!
Something said to me “Don’t turn on the light it can create a spark and we would all go up in smoke” so I trailed downstairs from the first floor, past the ground floor to the basement, opening windows as I went and more or less in the dark, I may have had a torch.
Sure enough, the floor was wet and smelt strongly of what I then found out was ""ethyl acetate"". I telephoned the engineer who worked with us in those days, whose name has evaporated in the haze of time and he showed up shortly after. We conversed and realised that we had to pour the remains of the leaking drum into a sound one. It was heavy. I had seen procedures whereby a plastic tube went from one drum to the other and everything was transferred. However, the heavy drum had to be higher that the empty one for this to function. We somehow got the leaking drum onto a stool and inserted a tube but you have to get the thing flowing. The engineer did not have much imagination and my only suggestion was “suck the tube and get the liquid going, after that it will flow on its own”. He wouldn’t , so in the end I had to and that solved the problem.
Between us we mopped up the floor, firmly closed the new drum containing the solvent and I went back to bed.
Ivan was horrified when I told him the story but it was resolved most satisfactorily.
…with a twinkle in his eye
Private companies usually have their shareholders meet every Sunday lunch, shop talk is kept to a minimum so as not to offend the “in-laws” and siblings not involved in the business.
Family owned companies are involved in management and get remunerated by far more than dividends. The reputation that comes with a company that does well, that is a highly-sought-after employer, that leads in innovation, in environmental thinking and international expansion, that does things right - rubs onto the family.
For a family to be leading a business that is a role model brings a non-monetary compensation that makes this tight-knit group far richer than any stock market investor could ever be. Can you imagine the pride of a family where the business it owns addresses the capacity needs for the only paedeatric HIV protease inhibitors ? or the most innovative (avian) flu medicine ?
The first wave of independent fine chemical companies that excel at serving the pharmaceutical were created in the fifties in Europe. They were founded by forceful entrepreneurs that all seemed to have: technical brilliance, an open mind to international horizons and a good dose of charisma and leadership (Baum of Orgamol, Ferrari of FIS, Stampa of Medichem and Ivan Villax of Hovione -among others- are examples). These businesses are now well into their second generation.
We now see a second wave of entrepreneurs succeeding in this industry. They are in India and in China. Their growth has been phenomenal, we have seen them selling-out, we have also seen some weaknesses.
The combination of ownership and management in a group of individuals bound together by family blood is a winning formula. Because this combination addresses the needs of the business better than any other model the leadership at the top:
• has a profound knowledge of the technical aspects as well as the time it takes to get things done, the experience of past projects, the ability to pick trends and patterns where others mostly see confusion.
• has a deep belief in the industrial mission of the business, both in terms of doing it right and doing it well, but also doing it from the point of view of the customer – that implies much more than a service orientation. I often find myself telling bankers “why should we merge or sell out, what will it do for our customers ?”.
• is financially prudent, has a frugal dividend pay-out policy and long-lasting banking relationships that results in a strong balance sheet; but is technically aggressive keen on early adoption of new technologies.
• has a sense of ethics that does not allow for compromises. Ethical standards in a highly regulated business where service is paramount is an imperative and over time is the winning trump. Everywhere you will see that members of family businesses take an above average amount of time to serve their communities – in industry associations and in social responsibility matters.
• has a highly developed sense of opportunity. This is not just related to picking the right moments to invest in capacity, but also to go the extra mile to get a customer, to accept a bad business because it is a stepping stone to a sunny spot.
• has speed – to process all the inputs and get to a decision that is neither questioned nor subject to further reviews and questions. But also to change one’s mind if one realises one has done a mistake. It is a decision-making process that is supported by the family that trusts the chosen leader, family members that from the age of 6 have been around the sunday-lunch table and have seen many, many challenges. This collective memory of successes, and some failures, has demonstrated that over and above the soundness of the decisions, or the skills of the leader at the time, what has dictated success has been the business model because what matters most is to believe in a strategy and being able to carry it out whatever the time it takes, whatever the difficulties.
Family businesses also have built-in structural weaknesses. These are easily identifiable, and best practices from listed companies can address them without difficulty.
Aged 8 or 9 I remember my father returning one evening from work with a twinkle in his eye – he was ecstatic because someone in the lab had finally been able to get that reaction to work. That’s probably why I do what I do.
(written at Peter Pollak’s request in August 2008)
Access to the plant in Sete Casas
The plant in Sete Casas was built at the far end of the small property belonging to the Villaxes, and about to start receiving the necessary heavy machinery. Every day new equipment was arriving. One day an enormous truck arrived from Italy – one of those with a separate cabin for the driver. We had not foreseen such a large vehicle.
The access to the plant was along a narrow municipal lane, dividing fields and not tarmacked. It was a mass of holes, with trees either side which made it even narrower. Certainly not offering the conditions required to unload the equipment!!
I remember the driver – a young Swiss lad – who must have realized our embarrassment and decided to accept the challenge. He was certainly going to unload the equipment, exactly where it was required, come what may. Did he not come from a country of precision?!
His maneuvering was certainly worth watching and the truth is that he entered and left showing amazing skill. We helped as much as we could of course, cutting many branches and bushes to give him more width. That was the day we started improving the access to our factory!!
In 1969, aged 19, I worked in a small garage in Rua do Sacramento à Lapa, near the Villax family house. I met Mr. and Mrs. Villax via their cars which I used to wash and fill up with petrol.
Once work started at the Loures plant, more staff was needed in production. It was, thus, one day during that year that Mr. Villax invited me to form part of his team, which took place in February 1970. I was, obviously, very pleased. It meant a higher salary, better working conditions all round and the opportunity to learn things that would increase my qualifications and offer me a better future.
As soon as I started to work I realized the distance that separated the high degree of exigency and rigor required in the procedures of chemical reactions and everything that I did, compared to what I had done up to date at the garage. I understood I had everything to learn.
I witnessed the growth and success of Hovione over the years from the production at a pilot plant scale to that of several tons, using an ever increasing degree of technology and higher demands of quality. But any factory or other activity when it starts up will pass through different periods and happenings, sometimes bringing problems. However, what I always saw and learned at Hovione was that no obstacles are unsurmountable, all problems however complex have a solution. This philosophy was constantly transmitted to me and others who worked directly with Mr. Villax.
A man of an exceptional intellectual standing, who naturally transmitted confidence, rigor and an enormous work capacity. To work with Mr. Villax meant to achieve more with less effort. At times, if problems arose during production, the head of production would tell us “Today Mr. Villax will accompany us throughout the whole manufacturing process of this batch”. At that moment, in view of our very limited experience as chemical operators we would panic, as if we had been told that we were about to be launched out of a plane with a parachute for the first time, the adrenaline rising to new heights. Not because it was the Boss who would be working directly with us but because it was Mr. Villax with his immense technical knowledge who was going to lead us and see how we worked. Such was the respect we had for him.
Once, one of my colleagues said “Mr. Villax, things aren’t going well, we must go to the witch”. Mr. Villax answered, with the calmness of who knows exactly what he is doing, “I am the witch”. And, in fact, all the technical problems were solved.
I also realized Mr. Villax had a very human side to his character. He was very approachable, would listen and was never indifferent to any private problems a member of the staff might have.
In 1986 I had another pleasant surprise. In view of my experience, Mr. Villax asked me to participate in the start-up of the Macau factory. It was such a wonderful invitation as since very young I had been fascinated by the East. This was a great opportunity and I made every effort to do my best.
It was a pleasure to work and live in Macau for ten years. It was also a great challenge to train my Chinese and Filipino colleagues, people with other cultures, who had no idea what a reactor or a chemical reaction was. Despite a certain amount of stress and loss of weight at the beginning, there were no significant problems and within less than 2 years we had very good production operators and even responsible team leaders.
Hovione is about to commemorate 50 years of existence, whose beginning is due, without a doubt to two people of great intelligence, capable of hard work and extraordinary leadership – Mr. Ivan and Mrs. Diane Villax. A long life and great success during the next 50 years is what I sincerely wish for Hovione.
Moving to Loures - PREC
We moved again, in the Summer of 1969, to the new factory in Sete Casas, outside Loures. It started with one building and several years later Building 2 was erected, where the commercial, administrative, some production and research operations were transferred.
Great expansion took place during the following years, only interrupted by the 25th April 1974 and the “hot” Summer of 1975, with the consequent instability within the work force. Some will still remember the Workers’ Commission promptly formed and the innumerable meetings which followed.
I remember an episode at the Hairdressers’ Syndicate in Lisbon where someone, seated behind the Head of Analysis, inadvertently, burnt a hole in her beautiful camel hair jacket. For me and many others they were turbulent times, only Mr. Villax could take us safely through the storm. And so it was, the majority won.
We made every effort to steady the boat and I think we succeeded.
To be or not to be a DRUG…this is the question...
One day in 1970, a tall, blond gentleman turned up at the Lisbon airport Cargo Terminal with a small package to be sent to Switzerland. It didn’t weigh more than 1kg but I was astonished when I looked at the respective invoice. A product called betamethasone of enormous value for those days.
It caused great impact and I told the gentleman who was waiting that before leaving the package would have to go through Customs and the AirwayBill checked. The Customs’ official immediately asked to see what was in the package as there was a suspicion that the powder within the glass flask might be cocaine…..
The gentleman who was still waiting said that the flask could not possibly be opened due to technical reasons but he invited the official to visit the Loures factory in order to understand, and see for himself, what was being produced. The officer came round to the plant, the product left later – this was probably the first guided tour of Hovione’s factory.
Since that first shipment, ALL Hovione’s invoices have to be accompanied by a declaration stating that the product to be exported “DOES NOT CONTAIN DRUGS” … just to be on the safe side.
A final note. The participants in this story:
1) Hovione’s representative was Mr. Ivan Villax.
2) The TAP agent was the undersigned.
Work at Sete Casas Plant – Hydrogenation
I started working at the Sete Casas’ plant in 1970. That was when we started producing doxycycline although the initial work and assays had been carried out at the laboratory in Travessa do Ferreiro. We were a team of about 12 to 15 people to begin with although the Lisbon office was maintained.
We then started carrying out hydrogenations and this became my responsibility until I retired at leadership level 4. Mr. Villax knew this operation was dangerous but he considered me careful and responsible that was why it became my job. Sometimes I was frightened and would worry at home whether everything had been satisfactorily concluded.
Unloading of Equipment - persistence and imagination!
Another large piece of equipment arrived in the middle of the afternoon. It came on a large truck which had to lower its sides in order to unload by means of a crane or forklift. However, we had neither of these two items and it was too late to send for anything.
Mr. Biro – who was as persistent as he was competent, decided we had to unload the equipment so that we could start installing it the following morning.
I was watching and thinking “we might not be able to and we might be in for an unfortunate situation... What if the crate falls!?”
It was dark when we started the unloading, sliding the crate down lengthwise, using steel cables to control the movement. Being very heavy at one moment the front of the truck began to rise. The skill of those holding the cables managed to stabilize the truck. We got a nasty shock!
It was near dawn when we succeeded in unloading the equipment, thanks to much persistence and a lot of imagination. We had to prop up the truck both at the front and rear so that it did not upturn again.
Complicated? Without a doubt! Efficient? Far from it! But the satisfaction of those around when the crate was finally on the ground was noisy indeed!
My first work suit
I started work at Hovione on the 3rd Sept. 1973 at 8 in the morning. After being presented to all the production workers, Mr. Carlos Azevedo took me to the warehouse to collect the necessary protection gear. Since its foundation, Hovione had always looked after the health and protection of its employees.
I collected gloves, boots, gasmasks and filters. The Head of the Warehouse, Mr. Martinho said he had not got my size for the worksuit but it would be arriving within a few days.
At 9 a.m. I was taken to meet Mr. Villax, who asked me why I was not yet properly clad. I replied that the warehouse had not got my size, so Mr. Villax opened his cupboard and took out his suit which he handed to me. As Mr. Villax was bigger than I, I had to make tucks in the sleeves and trouser legs and that was how I went around for my first few days at Hovione.
The Berk Story
I first came into contact with Hovione, and to meet Ivan Villax, by a rather indirect route in the early 1970’s. Clients of mine, Berk Pharmaceuticals Ltd., were being sued for patent infringement in the UK by American Cyanamid Company.
Cyanamid had a patent for a fermentation process for making tetracycline using some particular micro-organisms they had isolated and developed by mutation and selection, the invention residing in the fact that these were thought to be the first micro-organisms capable of producing tetracycline free of chlortetracycline which was a very valuable feature.
Berk’s tetracycline was made in Italy by a company Fermentfarma. It came to light from enquiries of Fermentfarma that they also were using a micro-organism which produced tetracycline free of chlortetracycline, and further that this particular micro-organism had been developed many years previously by one, Ivan Villax, working in France.
Cyanamid alleged that this process (and the Berk tetracycline produced using it) infringed their patent and accordingly brought an action against Berk to cease sales. The main thrust of Cyanamid’s case was that Ivan’s micro-organism was actually one of theirs, and it was necessary therefore for Berk to determine the provenance of the Fermentfarma micro-organism. These enquiries led to me being posted off to Lisbon to meet Ivan and to go through matters with him. This turned out to be the first of many visits, all of which were an immense pleasure in spite of being very hard work.
It turned out that Ivan had developed the micro-organism strain (with his then employer’s permission) from some soil isolates obtained in France in the 1950’s for the purpose of studying the ink disease of chestnut trees! All his work on the antibiotic-producing strains, was continued over many years and recorded in his notebooks. Unfortunately, however, since he was fluent in at least six languages and used them all and his own unique shorthand in his notes, it was not immediately obvious (even sometimes to him!) what the notebooks said. They were eventually transcribed showing how, through multiple mutations each meticulously carried out, the desired tetracycline-producing strain was obtained.
At the trial, these notebooks and Ivan’s personal testimony were the foundation of Berk’s eventual success in showing non-infringement. He was subjected to examination in court for four days and, despite the fiercest of attacks, he remained throughout the master of the situation. It was very remarkable and impressive, and despite attack after attack from Cyanamid, the judge accepted his evidence as completely accurate and honestly given. It was a complete vindication for him.
As the judge noted, there was actually nothing for Ivan to gain from agreeing to appear at the trial at all since neither he nor Hovione had any financial interest of any sort in the outcome. But it was, of course, typical of him that his fierce pride and honesty would compel him to defend his name (which he did superbly), particularly against the accusations of a major pharmaceutical company. I spent many days with him in Portugal working on the notebooks, and subsequently over many years kept in professional contact with him, especially on his visits to London.
To me, he was the most considerate and courteous of men, a giant in intellect, always with a warm twinkle in his eye. It was always such a pleasure to meet up with him and a singular privilege to have been able to work with him.
PREC Stories I – A Question of Common Sense
Hovione had a total staff of 45 on the 25th April 1974, most of whom had been admitted within the previous 4 to 5 years since the Loures plant had started production in 1969. Only a small nucleus of 7 employees had been admitted during the first years of the company.
During the PREC (Processo Revolucionario em curso –Revolutionary Process Underway) - being the period following the 25th April 1974 which lasted several years – many companies was nationalized, some directly (banks, insurance companies, parts of industry) others, indirectly, due to a shareholding position by banks. Frequently, people were ousted, this being totally unfair compulsive sacking based upon false accusations, never verified. This was a way of settling personal vendettas.
The newspapers took to relating such situations daily and there was an incitement to take part in the “revolution” and for “the employees to take over the companies”. Anyone who did not agree was accused of being a reactionary and about to be ousted from his job.
At Hovione there was some turbulence but with different characteristics, probably because the people did not really think they were being exploited (conditions were far better than what they had had previously) and they knew they were learning a profession.
However, even so there was a group of people who, immediately after the 25th April started insisting on wage increases without waiting to see if this was the general feeling and without the consent of the majority of the staff. The increases were accepted – Esc.1,000 (€5.00) and Esc. 1,500 (€7.50) depending on the level of the previous wages.
Some people – more preoccupied with maintaining their jobs and recognizing the satisfactory conditions of work – did not agree with these demands and proposed that, in future, all matters had to be made known to everyone and accepted by the majority. Furthermore, the matters had to be discussed after working hours and outside the plant. Acceptance was peaceful and complied with.
Today, years later, I feel that the good common sense that led to this compromise agreed upon by all Hovione employees ensured that the firm never held the infamous plenary meetings which were summoned from one moment to another and upset the normal work in so many firms. In our case and due to the nature of our business (chemical reactions that could last up to 24 hours) if this had happened, it would have had a devastating effect. The climate within the firm was calm, nothing comparable to what was going on in the vast majority of Portuguese firms.
Good science is not enough
My father often said that if our products are good enough they will sell themselves. Indeed throughout most of his life my father’s best advertising were his inventions and he was pleased that for 25 years his name showed up every year at no cost in his very own yellow pages (the Chemical Abstracts !).
Sure enough many customers from Japan came to his doorstep and rang the bell, and for over 10 years Japan was our Number 1 market. Sales of corticosteroids to Japanese customers are at the root of Hovione’s initial success. As a result my father flew to Japan several times a year in the Sixties and the Seventies. The flight from Europe stopped in Anchorage and then flew across the North Pole.
One day on arrival at Haneda airport, at dusk, as my father got off the plane, went down the stairway and started to walk towards the terminal, he saw the new moon. He had picked up on a splendid superstition of my great-grand-mother and proceeded to stop on the tarmac, drop his bags and perform a ceremony: he bowed to the moon holding coins in both his hands, and then did a full turn on himself and again bowed to the moon again shaking the coins so they would make noise – this he repeated 3 times. Standing in a circle around him was a group of surprised Japanese, staring… Ivan felt that good science was not enough, you needed luck and the New Moon would smile at those that took risk.
In those early days every bit of luck was necessary – so even after a long flight, even in a strange and far away place, Ivan Villax never missed a chance to get luck on his side.
PREC Stories II – The Rumors
(In 1974/75 many of the Hovione employees lived in Sete Casas and nearby villages. They all knew each other and the families met daily.
Everyone was worried and the talk at the local café was always the same. Rumors circulated, got distorted, exaggerated. “the chap who works at Hovione says ….”
“the raw material for the production of betamethasone was not cleared through Customs due to lack of payment. We will be stopping production!”
“the Villaxes have sold Quinta de S. Pedro” (the land on which the plant was built)
“Hovione has been sold”
The solution was to inform all personnel of the rumors – as rumors – that were circulating. Some were easily contradicted. On the question of the delay with the raw material – the bank had delayed in passing over the necessary documents as, it, too, was in a turmoil. But how to contradict some of the others?
Sometimes, acts are worth more than a thousand words. Salaries continued to be paid on the day and we continued to produce and export betamethasone.
PREC Stories III – The Artistic Club of the Hairdressers of Portugal a.k.a Hairdressers
Today, when referring to the meetings held at the Hairdressers’ Association, the question is – why the Hairdressers’ Association?
We had decided that all workers meetings had to take place outside the plant and someone found this space, sufficient for 45 people to meet, at a reasonable price – Esc.1,500 (€7.50) and each person paid so much according to his wage.
I remember, helped by the notes I took at the time, that there were doubts from all areas of the company – the patents, the sales, cost of production, current accounts, overheads. Everything was questioned.
Those who had the correct information – due to the positions they held – would give the answers and when people still had doubts, these would be added to the list of question to be put to Mr. Villax.
Of course this meant that we all heard about matters which meant nothing to us: the chemists had to listen to “debit” and “credit” questions, people from Accounts and Administration had to try and understand about chemical reactions and the world of patents.
Who would have imagined that today, many years later, all this information is a normal working tool for so many of those who work in the company?
It was a long and sometimes painful process for those who believed in the company and the Villaxes. But it had to be done so that no doubts were left in the ceptical minds of some. The final result was satisfactory and the “team” emerged stronger than ever.
After the 25th April 1974, there was considerable unheaval in all sections of society – it was the climax of the infamous period known as PREC.
This process, depending on the political/social force in power, kept on changing the methods of work and procedures in all sectors.
Along this line, someone “decided” to locate all the Official Customs Brokers and their assistants who worked at the airport, in one single office. This meant that to move around one had to maneuver around a labyrinth of desks, cupboards, files, etc. etc., until reaching his station.
At lunchtime, the “bosses” left and the majority of the Assistants stayed in the office as they brought food from home and soon the office became a meeting room. They would read the sporting papers with their feet on the desks, play cards and bit by bit the others, having finished their meal, would arrive so that there was an ever increasing background noise of talk and laughter. I must point out that this situation did not affect me directly as I only went to this office on behalf of Hovione.
One day I arranged to meet one of the employees of our Customs Broker at the Lisbon Airport Cargo Terminal to resolve a question that had arisen. After the meeting with the Customs’ Official, our broker and I returned to his office. It was lunch time so to get through we had to put up with and avoid the legs of those reading the newspapers, others playing cards , all giving us dirty looks as we weaved our way to my friend’s desk at the rear of the room.
He sat down with me next to him and together we prepared the documentation required in order to solve the problem with the Customs’ authorities. After a few minutes we noticed that the background noise had subsided, the room was silent and suddenly we heard a chorus, low to begin with, then getting louder and louder until we understood they were all staring at us and shouting “Down the reaction, down the reactionaries”.
I looked at the chap, a man of a certain age and great experience, and he just said “don’t take any notice of them, they will soon tire” and we continued to work.
Conclusion: We were working during the lunch hour and therefore considered reactionaries.
30 years' later
It happened 30 years' ago ... I opened the Diário de Notícias ...and replied to an advertisment! Upon receiving an answer asking me for an interview, I decided to check out the location on the previous day so as not to arrive late, as I had no idea where this office was.
When I arrived at Travessa do Ferreiro No. 1, I found a large house, with all shutters closed (it was at the end of the afternoon) and thought to myself ... how peculiar ... an office! Furthermore, the name of the firm - Hovione - was totally unknown. In those days there was no Internet for one to check out such things.
However, the next day I arrived and rang the door bell. On entering I realised that it really was an office.
I was received by a nice lady, whom I was later to know as Mrs. Diane Villax. We talked and I carried out some tests and was admitted. It was about the 20/21st July and all I asked was to start as from the 1st August.
And now 30 years have gone by...
On this important occasion for Hovione I would like to express my respects to Mr. Ivan Villax, Mrs. Diane Villax and all their family for the way in which they have managed this Great Company, of which I am proud to belong.
I would like to express particular regards to Mrs. Diane Villax for the years during which I had the priviledge of working with her at the Travessa do Ferreiro offiice and from whom I learnt so much from her example in many fields of life. Many thanks.
My first job for Hovione
I undertook my first job for Hovione in 1978.
José Silva, the driver, arrived at my workshop and asked me to rectify two small items, about as big as a Esc.20 coin of those days. I said I would try. He returned several hours later to pick up the pieces, asked me “How much?” and I said “nothing”.
Next day he returned with a message that the Boss, Mr. Villax, wanted to pay and would I give him the Firm’s card as he was very pleased with my work.
From that moment onwards, I am proud to say, that I have carried out much work for Hovione.
Celebration Lunch at Restaurant Mónaco
I had been working at Hovione for two years when I went to the first party, celebrating those who had worked for the firm for 10 or 20 years.
After lunch, presents handed out and speeches made, we stayed back chatting. That year our club issued a paper entitled “Hexagon” and I was asked to interview Mr. Villax.
I remember asking Mr. Villax if ever the firm had delayed payment of its wages due to financial difficulties and the answer was “No”. To my surprise, as well as to those around me, Mr. Villax continued “There was a difficult moment when we had to pawn Mrs. Villax’s jewels so as not to fail in paying your wages”. And he concluded “The employee’s wage is sacred”. Unnecessary to say that that was the end of the interview. Recently, I learned that the jewels were pawned for about six months but never was there delay in the payment of our wages.
The circle has closed
In the summer of 1979 I joined Hovione for two months as a trainee from my university in The Netherlands. I worked in the lab and my job was to analyze all the organic solvents to identify impurities, if any, using a GC. No mass spectrometer, no reference compounds, only a FID detector, the European Pharmacopeia, a catalogue from Merck and a whole lab full with nice and helpful lady analysts!!
You can see “our team” on one of the pictures I attached. My job became more complex when the cylinder with compressed air, required to burn the flame of the FID, rqn out and a new one had to be ordered.
That was not a simple issue in 1979. First the company who sold the air cylinders needed the money-transfer from the bank, and in those years that certainly took more than a week!! So after 8 mornings of asking if the cylinder had arrived, I took my chances at a brand new HPLC instrument that only Isabel (see picture) was allowed to work with. On that instrument we studied the betamethasone and beclomethasone production for purity and unwanted by-products.
This is simply one of the good memories I hold of my time at Hovione and my stay in Portugal, and there are so many more to share. I really fell in love with your country, Lisbon and the Portuguese people. Since 1979 I had the chance to visit Lisbon on various occasions, the last time was in April 2008. I graduated from university in 1982 in analytical chemistry, did my PhD, worked for 17 years in a water research institute and changed position 5 years ago to a CRO called NOTOX, where we perform safety and environmental research for the pharmaceutical industry. I am managing the chemical labs (45 dedicated people), so I am back in the field where I worked in at Hovione!! After 30 years the circle really seems to have closed.
Looking at recent pictures of Hovione on your website, I can see a tremendous growth since 1979 and a very succesful company. Congratulations on the occasion of Hovione’s 50th birthday and I wish you, the company and all the coworkes of Hovione, all the best for the next 50 years. And I am just grateful and proud that Hovione has given me the opportunity to work with them and to learn a lot about pharmaceuticals, analytics, people and Portugal, and even a little Portugese. Muito obrigado e espero: até logo!!
Excellent photographs dating back to 1979 duly received with thanks. DV"
“I would prefer to arrive later, rather than not arrive at all”
During my first year with Hovione Ivan Villax received an invitation to give a talk at the Chemistry Department in Coimbra. He asked Philip Page and me to accompany him. We drove up in Ivan’s enormous red Volvo the night before. In those days there were no motorways, just normal trunk roads. I have to confess, it was a fairly harrowing experience. I was thrown from one side to the other in the back seat as we overtook everything on the road. That is until highlights appeared behind us and the following car proceeded to overtake us at a very fast rate. An indignant Ivan Villax said “Did you see that! Some people have no sense. I would prefer to arrive late, rather than not at all”.
A NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK...
Hovione was expanding fast and the US market was its major client.
One day their current shipping agent got a call from the Export department, still located in Travessa do Ferreiro to the effect that an 80kg crate for one of its American clients had disappeared and no one seemed to be able to locate it.
It was a serious matter as it was an important order and Hovione was looking inefficient vis á vis the client.
I happened to be in New York at the time which was the destination of that particular shipment so I decided to go to the airport and talk to the TAP representative and, if possible, check out the import warehouse to see if I could find the volume, as I knew the type of packaging Hovione used.
The warehouse belonged to United Airlines, a very large US company, and was enormous. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
After 10 minutes of looking around …BINGO …there was Hovione’s crate, tidily placed but in the wrong place.
What a relief!!!
Final note: The two people involved in the story:
1) Hovione – Mrs. Diane Villax
2) The representative of the shipping agent – the undersigned.
Greetings to all!
A Very Persuasive Gentleman
I was invited to join Hovione in 1980. I remember coming for an interview with Ivan Villax. I had recently accepted a position in ISEL and we had just acquired a house on the south side of the river in Barreiro. Public transport to Cabo Ruivo was accessible and frequent, whereas Loures was extremely difficult to reach from my home.
I went along for an interview with Ivan Villax with no great expectations. I drove across the 25th of April Bridge, down the Calçada de Carriche and through Loures to the plant in Sete Casas in our new mini. Traffic was still light at that time as relatively few cars were on the road. I had no idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to find a clean, orderly plant with construction going on behind the main building. (For most of the time I have been with Hovione there has been constant expansion and construction on the site).
My first meeting with Ivan Villax was memorial. He sat behind a huge desk in his an impressive wood panelled office. He came across as someone with lots of drive, who new exactly where they were going and how to get there. He was expanding the Company and needed new personnel, hence his offer to me to run the R&D laboratories. I was fairly reticent, explaining that I had just taken on commitment both in terms of work and the locale of my family home. I asked him why I should take on the position. His reply was because “I can be a very persuasive gentleman”. We had launch at a local restaurant, O Madeirense. I joined Hovione on the 1st November 1980 and have been with the company ever since.
Cheques totally written in Chinese - how did the Bank decypher them?
An amusing story which dates back many decades.
We used to sell small quantities of steroids to a client in Taipei, formally exported and subsequently paid for by cheque upon arrival of the product at its destination.
The first time I received one of these cheques I couldn't believe my eyes. It was totally written in Chinese characters, beneficiary, amount, signature and date, everything except for the actual figures of the sum involved. Whats'more, the cheque had been endorsed more than once so it was, in fear and trembling, that I submitted it to Banco Espirito Santo the following day to be credited to Hovione's account!!
No problem, they must have had a Chinese translator on hand or else they figured out their could always debit our account if the cheque bounced.
This was just the first of many such cheques that we received from our clients' in Taipei and they were always good.
After 4 days at Hovione, Sept. 1980, I was made responsible for registering the incoming mail which, in those days, was carried out in the Library, Building 1, during the daily mail meeting. Manuela Leite explained the whole procedure to me as well as telling me to bring the coffee from Mr. Villax’s office, to be served to all at the meeting.
I did as instructed but couldn’t find a suitable place to leave the paper filter from the coffee machine. On top of the desk didn’t seem suitable and I didn’t know that Arlete, who worked in Mr. Villax’s laboratory next door would come and pick it up.
I decided to leave the used paper filter on top of the coffee machine – a bad idea. Whilst serving the coffee, it slipped and to prevent it from falling onto the table I made a brusque movement and upset the coffee over the letters that were circulating round the table. Any hole, however big, would have been insufficient for me to disappear through; such was my shame and despair.
In the meantime, Mr. Villax with his usual sense of humor had pulled out his white handkerchief from his pocket, cleaned up the coffee and told me “Don’t cry”. Not only did I not cry as they was general laughter amongst those present which helped to clear the air and the meeting progressed without further incident.
20th Anniversary present
In 1981, Armindo and I, Mr. Simões, Rosado, who took her husband and Manuela Leite all went to Hong Kong, Macau, China and Thailand at Hovione’s expense, this being the firm’s present to us in commemoration of our first 20 years’ work with the firm.
Armindo was frightened of flying. It took many hours; we stopped in Dubai or Bahrein, then somewhere in India, before arriving in Hong Kong where we stayed for the first few days. Then we went to Macau and into China. On our return we stopped off in Thailand and visited Pattaya.
I still have a vivid recollection of this unforgettable trip.
A serious accident
It was during the lunch hour that we heard this explosion. We quickly learned that it had happened in Building 2, top floor and that two colleagues, Delfim Ferreira and Hernani Mira were seriously burned. They were distilling hexane under vacuum and gases had accummulated. When they opened the door, there was an explosion, followed by a fire.
Our two colleagues rushed down the stairs, their clothes in flames. Lina Reis and Jorge Cascais were on the 2nd floor, saw Delfim Ferreira, pulled him to the ground and rolled him on the carpet with the aid of a blanket to try and put out the flames.
Hernani was already on the Ground Floor being helped by other members of the staff, amongst them Jaime Alves, Antonio Pinto, João Oliveira and Manuel Gadunhas, who had wrapped him in blankets. In the meantime the ambulances arrived. Both men were in a serious state and Mr. Villax decided to have them both flown by air ambulance to the Hopital Édouard-Herriot in Lyon, at the time, the best in Europe for serious burn victims. The plane was charted from Lyon and came with a complete medical emergency staff.
There was a strike on at Lisbon airport but Hovione saw to it that there was no delay or danger for the plane to land and take off as quickly as possible. Our Sales Manager at that time, Mr. Nelson Ramalho, accompanied the two men in the plane, as an interpreter, and stayed with them in Lyon for about 2 weeks offering full assistance and liaising with the families in Lisbon.
Later, Hovione organized for the wives to go to Lyon and spend a few days with their husbands.
During the period our colleagues stayed at the Edouard Herrriot Hospital, we were informed daily of their progress.
Unfortunately, after 40 days, Hernâni Mira succumbed to pnemonia. He had been a smoker and had extensive burns so his lungs were less resistant. On the other hand, Deflim Ferreira returned, and after several months convalescence he came back to work in the Warehouse until he retired in 2004.
The colleagues who worked with me - arrival of the “ Wang"
During about 20 years I had a number of assistants but none of them could compare with Lina or Glória Neta, who started in 1980. She was and still it most competent although she did not work with me for long – other demands were made upon her.
I remember that both the Head of Marketing, Nelson Ramalho and the Technical Director, Dr. Philip Page, wanted her to work for them, the latter won!
We were great friends and worked well together, especially regarding the patent work. I remember telling her that the patents were my “children” and her “grandchildren”. We would often compete at translating the application texts, apart from many other documents, such as those relating to the project I&DeiaXXI.
In 1983 we received our first word processor – a Wang – an enormous contraption which made a tremendous noise when printing. Only later did we get computers with laser printers – what luxury!! I remember this first word processor was shared by a dozen secretaries who all fought to be first on the waiting list to get to it. The telex had already arrived, meters of text used to await us in the mornings!! Then we got a fax.
The 80’s and the following decades were a historical mark in the expansion of the Firm, in which we were all proud to have participated. As a Spanish poet once said “the way is made by walking along it”.
Such was Hovione’s route, conceived by Mr. Villax, later joined by his children, each in his specific field. All of them, having finished their studies, contributed towards the innovation and development of the Firm, which Mr. Villax so cherished.
What are two years in the life of a company celebrating its 50th anniversary? Very little.
For me they were two years that are a part of my life story and which I remember with nostralgia: the very strong personality of its Founder, Eng. Ivan Villax, the games of Bridge during the lunch hour, a week in Birmingham (with Noe Carreira and Azevedo, in the spring of 1983), the Safety Regulations Manual which I came across not so long ago.
Congratulations and the best of luck for the successores of this great Company.
1959-2009 - Hovione’s 50 years
I was touched, recently, when Mr. Simoes told me about Hovione’s idea to collect recollections from any one who had had contact with the firm over these 50 years.
During the years when I formed part of that “family” I tried to do my best and retain the memory of many episodes, those usual within an intense professional daily life. I am unable to express how much this experience left its mark on me!
But how could I forget that extraordinary team which managed to carry out more than 100,000 analyses a year? How many were involved in the excellent (and recognized) work carried out for the USP, BP and EP? How many made sure that no form 483 were issued in three of the seven FDA inspections that I had the opportunity to accompany? Or merely a one page 483 form in the other four inspections? Probably forgotten the first PEDIP project that enabled the acquisition of the NMR equipment! Even Mr. Villax did not believe we would manage to obtain the funds and Mr. Simões ended by signing the project! Mr. Yoshida – from Joel – told me one day 10 years after it’s installation that it was the equipment in Europe with the best resolution!
And what about the clients’ audits in 1994? And the decontamination of the WFI system? Does anyone remember? And the clean room? The plans for the installation of the LIMS system, the trips to Sarget in relation to patents, the visits to the FDA in Rockville, including a famous meeting in a corridor during the Barr investigation at the beginning of the 90’s?
Life is, first of all, the accumulation of memories. After 20 years, I think I could still show the layout of the Macau laboratories, including the layout of the analytical equipment! What about the manometers of the gas cylinders, forgotten in some drawer in Macau, initially considered a planning failure? However, none of this could have been achieved without the quality of so many people’s work with whom I had the privilege of collaborating during my passage through Hovione.
By sharing moments of sheer exaltation, of so much adrelanine, some disappointments, it all brings forth the best in people! It would be pointless to mention specific moments, unjust to point out one person or another. Anyhow, how can one forget experiences that mere Christmas cards, sent by friends not seen for 12 years, make sure are always remembered?
A long/fruitful collaboration with Hovione on patent litigation
In the mid-eighties, I was involved in developing the first multinuclear solution NMR measurements under pressures of gas. This was extremely important in enabling in situ measurements of homogeneous catalytic reactions in order to identify the catalytic intermediates and to understand/control the mechanism of the catalytic reaction.
As a result of giving my first public lecture in this area at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in ca. 1984, Dr Philip Page was in the audience and asked afterwards whether we could look at the Hovione reaction for the hydrogenation of methacycline to doxycyline, which as far as I remember had been discovered by Ivan Villax.
Initially, I thought that this work for Hovione Sociede Quimica S.A., at that time the world’s largest producer of the antibiotic doxycycline, could be completed in 1-2 years but patent litigation lawyers kept requiring more information on the nature of the intermediates and the mechanism. After ca. 10 years work, Hovione finally went to the European Court of Justice and this enabled the company to finally win the case, with the European Courts’ Panel of Experts especially commending the Hovione sponsored, Liverpool NMR work carried out by Dr C. Jacob and various PhD students on the characteristation of a variety of rhodium/hydrazine/phosphine complexes.
During this long period of collaboration, I always found Ivan extremely helpful/supportive/enthusiastic and also his wife, Diane. It is with great pleasure that I recall the long and fruitful collaboration with Hovione Sociede Quimica S.A. and it is a credit to the Villax’s that they have produced a second generation within the family to continue this strong industrial heritage and a strong third generation within the family coming up on the horizon.
The Hovione Hydrogenation Catalyst
In 1984, whilst I was Reader in Structural Chemistry at Queen Mary College in the University of London, I was contacted by Dr Philip Page, then Research Director of Hovione, who asked if he could come to see me to discuss the possible application of X-ray crystallography to a problem his Company were keen to resolve. At this meeting, I was asked if I could undertake some experiments to try to establish the actual nature of a rhodium-based hydrogenation catalyst which had been discovered by the founder and owner of the Company, Ivan Villax.
I was informed that Ivan had been interested in this topic for many years, and had started experimenting in his home laboratory – actually a true “home laboratory” – a shed at his family home. The driving force for his research was to find an alternative catalyst to that discovered, and patented, by Geoffrey Wilkinson at Imperial College, London, and used world-wide for a hydrogenation reaction for the manufacture of special commercial compounds. Amongst these was doxycycline – a product manufactured by Hovione.
In order to compete legally with the Wilkinson catalyst, which was a fairly simple compound of rhodium, with three triphenylphosphine groups and one chlorine atom, all bound directly to the rhodium atom, any new compound would have to have a significantly different constitution and structure. It would, of course, also have to be a better catalyst! Ivan had made a major breakthrough by reacting Wilkinson’s catalyst with a range of other compounds, and eventually achieved what he was looking for by using hydrazine – a simple, reactive compound constituted from two nitrogen atoms bound together, each of which was bound also to two hydrogen atoms. The solution prepared in this way did indeed prove to have much improved catalytic properties; and since it was better, it was indeed likely to have a different constitution. However, before this new compound could be submitted for patent consideration, it was necessary to find out exactly what it was – and that was where we could possibly help.
Accordingly, my co-workers and I began duplicating Ivan’s experiments, and trying to grow crystals from the catalyst solutions, now being made by mixing rhodium trichloride, triphenylphosphine and hydrazine hydrate. After many attempts, we managed to find the conditions needed to provide crystals, and we were able to determine the structure. This proved to be a new compound, comprising a dimeric component, formed by two rhodium atoms, each carrying two triphenylphosphine groups, bridged by two hydrazine molecules. Most importantly, this species, which was a double cation, was balanced by the presence of two chloride ions. This meant that there was no direct rhodium-chloride bond in the compound, which marked it out as being fundamentally different to Wilkinson’s catalyst.
The final positive result was that when the actual crystals were tested in the factory, it was proved that the identified compound did indeed have the enhanced catalytic properties found for the original solution. This wonderful discovery initiated a period of frequent visits to the factory in Loures, and meetings at the Villax house in London, as the “Patent of Improvement” was prepared. At the same time, we needed to devise a strategy to contest the law suits which were being mounted by the companies, mainly in the US, who were licensed to use Wilkinson’s catalyst for their preparations of doxycycline.
However, whilst this was going on, a further exciting development occurred, which led to even greater enhancement of the catalyst activity. At one of the brainstorming meetings, I had suggested that, since we had proved that the catalyst was an ionic chloride compound, it might be worth trying to make and test the analogous nitrate, since these salts tended to form more easily – the nitrate ion was not as good at binding to metals.
This suggestion was indeed taken up, and tests made in the factory. The result was breathtaking. The mixture of rhodium nitrate, triphenylphosphine and hydrazine proved to have ten times the catalytic activity of the chloride mixture! Of course, this led to a desire, and need, to try to confirm that the new system contained a compound analogous to that crystallised from the chloride system, but with the latter replaced by nitrate. Our winning streak continued, and we found it quite easy to obtain crystals, and determine the structure. This proved to be very similar to the chloride product, with the former replaced by nitrate, but with one additional feature. In the structure, the two bridging hydrazines were themselves cross-bridged by a methylene CH2 group. This was probably extracted from the methanol solvent used in the reaction. The similarity and the main difference between the two catalysts can be seen in the accompanying diagrams. The methylene bridge probably helped stabilise the molecular structure, enabling it to cope better with the hydrogenation reaction.
Representations of the dirhodium dication structures found ina) the chloride andb) the nitrate catalyst. (In each case, the anions have been omitted for clarity).
This new catalyst eventually led to great success in the patent cases, since the opponents had to accede that Hovione not only had an improved catalyst, but one that had involved a major new invention. Who else would have thought of reacting rhodium compounds with hydrazine? This success allowed Hovione to take a large share of doxycycline manufacture for some years.
mentioned earlier that my collaboration with Hovione led to many meetings with the team in Loures, and whilst the main activity was focused on developing and understanding the exciting science surrounding the catalyst, these visits had another, most enjoyable aspect. They enabled me to meet and learn to know all the other members of the Villax family, through meetings and the very kind invitations to visit the family home, and many of the staff working in the Company. It was really clear that Hovione was truly a “family business”, where the family members all made enormous contributions to the work of the company, and all the staff seemed to belong to the extended family which was the Company. Loures was obviously a serious place, engaged in serious work, but it was also an unbelievably friendly place, where strangers quickly became friends with everyone they met.
My close and direct contact with the company became less active as the saga of the catalyst came to its very successful end, and the Company developed significant activity in the biotechnology field (in which it has also achieved huge successes – of course), but I have remained in good contact, even though I made two career moves, first to an Established Chair in the University of Cardiff, and then to a similar position here in Southampton. I was delighted to receive invitations to all of the special celebrations along the continuing path to success – the opening of the new plant in Macau in 1987, the special scientific seminar in the Algarve in 1989 and the 40th Anniversary Workshop and Open day in June 1999. I was delighted also to receive an invitation to contribute to this special 2009 50th Anniversary activity which, coincidentally, is also the 25th anniversary of my first involvement with Hovione! In addition to contributing this story about one small, but I hope, important period in Hovione’s success, it gives me the opportunity to say how much I grew to admire and respect the remarkable achievements of a unique couple – Diane(gentle rhodium) and Ivan (reactive hydrazine), in catalyzing the success story that is Hovione. Ivan Villax, was a remarkable scientist, a remarkable business man and, not least, a remarkable husband to Diane and father to Guy, Peter, Sophia and Miguel. The close contact I enjoyed also led me to see the enormous contribution Diane Villax made to the development of the Company through its early periods, at a time when she was also devoting here efforts to her children and then grandchildren. Now I can add to this, and say how overwhelmingly impressed I am with the way Diane, together with Guy and the rest of the family and all the co-workers, have continued, and are continuing, to take Hovione further forward in the period since the sad loss of Ivan.
In the UK academic scene, final reports on research project grant outcomes are assessed, and given “scores”. The top two are “Outstanding” and “World Leading”. I know that in Hovione’s case I can only give an “interim” assessment, since the “project” continues, but it has to be both scores combined! Congratulations and my sincerest best wishes for the next 50 years!
Sete Casas – Loures Plant
I worked with Mr. Villax for 35 years. 10 years at Pasteur, followed by 25 years at Hovione. It was enough for Mr. Villax to start giving me instructions, I knew what he wanted, the results he expected. We understood each other perfectly and worked in total coordination.
Mr. Villax was full of ideas. Sometimes, in the middle of a test, he would come up with another idea. To save space in our logbooks, I used to draw a line below what I was registering, would begin another description which, upon completion, would be finished off with a line, and then I would continue with the initial assay that had been interrupted.
To end, a final comment from Angelina and Armindo. “We knew there were difficult periods, but never was a wage left unpaid”. “I remember a certain episode, it happened in Travessa do Ferreiro, a beggar came to the door and Mr. Villax gave him his dressing gown. Arlete said “the poor chap never had a jacket but he’s got a dressing gown now”.
Angelina retired in 1986 and Armindo in 1995.
Eng.º Melo Araújo’s recollections
I had the honour of being admitted to Hovione in 1987. From the beginning I realized that I was working in an organized firm with strict standards and procedures.
Mr. Villax manner left a deep impression on me. I was terrified when the pager rang and I was summoned to his office in Building 1 to hear what I had never expected to hear!
He made me grow as a Man and I am eternally grateful to him for giving me a hand thus enabling the growth of OMEP thanks to the various buildings I undertook at the Sete Casas plant.
It is with much pride that I enter Hovione’s gates today and realize that I have a strong connection with many of the staff.
I will never forget Hovione’s decision, in 2004, to name me their preferred Iberian supplier, when I was up against many large suppliers of chemicals. I was very touched.
A sincere thank you.
FDA Inspection in Macau
I arrived in Macau to work as Quality Controller in January 1987. The plant had just started operating, producing all but the last step of doxycycline. I arrived on a Saturday a little weary of what to expect as it was all a complete unknown to me. On Monday morning I was shown to my office which I was to share with Luisa Paulo, then head of the analytical department. There was an empty desk with a portable computer awaiting me – and that was it; I was left there to get on with my new job. I had never used a computer before and was not quite sure where to begin, but somehow I got going soon enough and from then on never for a moment looked back.
I remember we were definitely a young and very enthusiastic team. Work was fun, and we all felt we were on a mission, each with very clear goals and objectives to meet. We worked from 8am to 8pm, including Saturday mornings. My goal was to get the plant ready for an FDA inspection. In those days it was all much simpler, and there was a lot of help from Loures, but still it was a question of life or death for the new plant in Macau.
We quickly realized that there was no point in implementing a whole series of complex SOPs before a more basic and essential pre-requisite was achieved - cleanliness. For the Chinese who had recently joined Hovione, spending time on cleaning seemed a little superfluous – we had to explain that we were making drugs for human consumption and therefore it was really quite critical that the working environment was kept tidy and clean. Also the plant had just recently been built so we still had to deal with remains of cement and such other difficult to remove materials. We decided that would be our first SOP and I set about learning all about the products, procedures, tools and equipment required to clean the plant and the keep it clean. I set to work and defined on paper the how, who, what, when of cleaning for every area in the plant. It ended up being an 8 or 10 page document that was then translated to Chinese. We then explained and exemplified the procedures to all the cleaning personnel. It was quite hard work, but once done, I don´t think cleanliness was ever an issue again.
Chan Lai Chan embraced the concept and during her twenty years of service she made sure the standards were kept high.
Yet by far the best story that translates the early days in Macau is the one where Guy and I ended up spending a Saturday afternoon taking samples of oxytetracycline from drums on a ship from China in transit in Hong Kong to Macau, under boiling sun and draining humidity. It all started at one of our daily mail meetings, when Jose Rato, I think, said we had a problem – production would have to stop due to lack of the main raw material, oxytetracycline. The Chinese supplier had delayed shipment and stocks were insufficient. The 5 tons or so of oxy were on there way from China but the date of arrival of the ship in Macau was precisely the day the material was needed. That wasn´t good enough because samples had to be taken and analysis had to be done. Not doing the analysis was out of the question – too risky and simply the wrong thing to do if we wanted FDA approval. We pulled our hair for a solution, production couldn´t stop – we worked things back, we analysed the ship´s schedule day by day. Our problem was the analysis. We realized the product would be in transit in Hong Kong for a day or so and then move on to Macau. Suddenly someone realized - probably Guy but I can´t remember - that we could gain the critical days if we anticipated the analysis and did it while the product was on its way to Macau.
The solution implied getting the samples from the drums while still on the ship when docked in Hong Kong – this would be on the Saturday, and we could start the analysis on the Sunday. The Hong Kong office set about getting the necessary permits for us to board the ship and open up our consignment. In HK everything is possible and although this was a strange thing to do, we were able to get the permit in no time.
Guy and I went – it was really hot and humid, there were 200 drums each weighing 25 kgs all piled up on top of each other. We had to open 40 and take samples. We dutifully set about opening the drums, taking a sample from each, closing again plastic bags and drums. It took us forever and we were totally exhausted but in the end it was mission accomplished bringing back the product for analysis, before the shipment itself had arrived. The rest went according to plan and production didn´t stop.
The FDA inspection happened in July 1987 – Penny Page came from Portugal to our aid. We had worked solid for weeks in preparation but we were inexperienced and really quite anxious of how things would go. The inspection lasted 2 days, and when it was over we were all a pile of nerves with what the verdict would be. We sat down with the inspector who started off by saying: “Well….. I don´t have to tell that it looks good” and what a huge relief we all felt. That same night Guy invited everyone to celebrate – we all ended up at the Hyatt night club – there was no one else there but us, about 60 people – the air conditioning had broken down, but that didn´t stop us all from dancing and celebranting for hours.. I have a very clear image of Guy dancing on top of the loudspeakers, totally letting go all the undergone stress. The next day it was business as usual, and we all felt we´d done it!
All in all, I spent 2 years in Macau, and wished I had stayed longer. It was a fantastic experience, personal and professional. I learnt to work and get on with it. I learnt to solve problems and figure out solutions. I also learnt how common sense is your best guide and counsellor. The cultural experience was also of great benefit – I understood there are many right ways, not just your own, and being open to other very different views enriches you and teaches you to be open minded and listen to others. I enjoyed working and getting to know the Chinese, and all in all, I had a great time. Work at HM was really fun and enjoyable, and the team spirit was great. I also got to know Asia and have missed it to this day. Being alone and far from family and friends was not always easy, but again it´s all part of life.
I thank my father for having sent me there and to have had the confidence that I, at the age of 23, could do it. At that age, I certainly had no notion of what it all implied.
Sofia Villax March 2009
I recall that more than 20 years ago I was harboring curiosity about a mysterious chemical plant in Macau and landed in Hovione. At that time many people were curious about what kind of products this Portugese-owned chemical plant would produce. Since the prospect looked hopeful there I went--the rest was history.
I did not know what to expect in the beginning. Most of the management were foreigners and the majority of us were local Chinese, the Filipinos did not join us until much later. Although there were language and communication barriers due to the cultural differences, we were lucky to have created a team spirit to help us sail through all those difficult months. We owe this to our good teachers Mr. Antonio Rosa and Mr. Jose Carrilho who not only kept the team together but also helped us by passing on to us their technical skills.
Hovione Macau, a ever developing and enterprising company, has constantly provided us with training and development opportunities. The company has molded me into a skilled worker, believed in me and promoted me to team leader over these years.
Looking forward to the future, we hold the same expectation for Hovione that she will continue to equip us with skills and lead us to soar above our competitors.
Happy 50th Anniversary!
How to tackle a big problem
In Macau, sometime in May 1987, a deficiency letter arrived from the FDA. It had 11 points. José Rato, technical director went silent, Luisa Paulo, head of analysis started to cry, Sofia -my sister- who was the QA person asked me in a panic "what are we going to do ?" I had no idea, but there was no way I was going to look weak and short of plans or initiatives, after all I was the boss - so I said "let's have lunch, we'll deal with it afterwards" and did my best not to look worried.
So we all went to the canteen and did not talk about the issue. I'd never even seen one of those letters before - the only person that could help was Philip Page and he was in Portugal most likely still asleep - and naturally we were not going to go sheepishly to him without a real draft for him to review ! After lunch we met in the stone building of the old firecracker factory, we sat down, it was dim and cool. I took the letter and asked "So, what's the easiest point on the list ?", José said "Nº4, on packaging", so I decided "OK, let's start with that one".
That afternoon, one by one, the team found solutions for all the points. We were all very young then - José was in his thirties, everone else in their twenties. The lesson was clear: if you have a big problem, break it into little ones, then start with the easiest one - it will give you the self-condfidence to tackle the bigger ones.
My carreer at Hovione
I first started to work for Hovione PharmaScience Ltd. in Macau carrying out domestic chores at the senior staff quarters back in January 1987.
When I was assigned work at the pharmaceutical factory in 1989 as a cleaner, I was able to meet all the friendly workers and gained a lot of useful knowledge and experience. Besides routine work, my co-workers taught me how to speak the Portuguese and Cantonese languages so that I could communicate more easily with them.
After a few years and with the trust and support of my colleagues, I was given the opportunity to work at the Quality Control Department as a laboratory apprentice, which was a significant turning point for my professional career. I started getting more and more interested in the laboratory work so that even in my leisure time, I would read SOPs, or what we now call IOP, and began asking questions on any difficulties I encountered.
I am now a Laboratory Technician and after more than 21 years of working in Hovione, I still continue to enjoy my job and I am really privileged and happy to be part of this prestigious Company.
Caring and Human
After several attempts, I collected up my courage and decided to go and speak to Mr. Villax to ask for a loan of 50 contos (Esc.50,000) to buy a car as public transport was scarce, and I promised to repay in five installments.
A few days later, Mr. Villax came across me in the bar, at lunch time and told me “I’ll grant the loan but you can repay me in ten installments, as you have a child to bring up”.
Words such as these show what a great person Mr. Villax was - R.I.P.
SERENDIPITY OR FATE?
Writing about Hovione’s memories is like writing a good part of mine.
Two moments in connection with Hovione have remained in my memory: when I first met Guy and when I first arrived at the Hong Kong Kai Tak airport in March 1988.
The very first time I came in touch with Hovione was twenty years ago, when I was in Lisbon on a two-month holiday from Brazil towards end of 1987.
I was in the Algarve looking through the Expresso when I saw an ad for a Manager for Hovione willing to reside in Hong Kong for an initial period of four years, requirements included a Business University degree and language skills in Portuguese and English but none for Chinese.
As a matter of interest I sent in my CV and was invited for an interview in Lisbon. A lady’s voice on the other end of the line told me to wait in the Av Infante Santo, at the corner of a grocery or café, that her son, tall, blond, blue eyed, would meet me there, in his open, red, two seater BMW.
A little peculiar I thought, but I waited and sure enough with a skid of the tyres this young man stopped in front of me, came out of car and greeted me by saying: Guy Villax! Little did I know at the time, that this young man would play such a decisive role in my life in the last twenty years!
The very first question from Guy was “How’s your English?”… Cambridge Proficiency, I said. He then drove me round the corner to some underground garage. This became more and more unusual. The young man´s mother seemed to be around with tickets to HK in her hand and a lot of messages.
However, we went to a meeting room and Guy who already started explaining the operations in Macau in the car went on to further explain in detail what the position entailed in HK and Macau. Before long Guy was asking me when could I leave for Hong Kong. Surprised and more than a little taken aback, I said I needed to think about and talk to my parents.
Having accepted the offer, I flew from Sao Paulo to Hong Kong, a completely strange and distant land for me (coming to China was unthinkable in those days), and I remember the shock of my life when I came out of the Immigration – the arrival hall was packed with a huge crowd of Asians, something totally alien to me at the time as I have never seen so many Chinese faces in my life before!
Strangely enough, the only familiar face I could identify with in that crowd was Sofia Villax’s (!), welcoming me with a smiling face. She quickly whisked me away from the alien crowd to Rammada Inn hotel in Wanchai where I left my bags and then for a dinner at the Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley flat, when I again bumped into Guy with Edith Wong, then responsible for China Trade who have just returned from China, bragging about prices they managed to get from Chinese suppliers on OTC… my very first impact with Hovione’s world!
Amid unknown waters, on my way from the airport to the hotel, the familiarity gradually sunk in, all the accumulated knowledge I acquired when I was a kid in a Chinese School in Mocambique slowly and surely returned to my memory and I was glad to find that I could READ the signs in the streets of Hong Kong and understand Cantonese!
Serendipity or fate? Only time can answer that. But the twenty years with Hovione have shaped my life in such a way that I now see myself as a totally different person. My working experience with Hovione has definitely added to my baggage of knowledge and enriched my life with interesting experiences that I could not have otherwise obtained.
Written by Sofia Lee Hong Kong, 9th February 2008
The 25th hour
Someone who left an indelible mark on Hovione was Dr. Philip Page with whom I had the privilege of working for 17 years.
Added to his profound technical knowledge, he managed his time very well and had an exceptional capacity of work. But even he had limits as you will see from the following story.
It happened on one of those many Fridays when Mr. Carlos Azevedo - Production Director - left a large pile of production sheets, documents, etc. on Dr. Page’s desk for his signature. However, Dr. Page never signed anything without checking it first, so these piles of papers meant no respite over the weekends either. On that particular Friday, he called for Mr. Azevedo and told him ”If you want me to work 25 hours a day, do warn me, so that I can get up an hour earlier”!
Let's go to Ireland
It is generally known that at the end of the 80's Hovione was targeted by a large American multinational due to its patents relating to the production of doxycyline. One of the objectives was to stop Hovione's production which would prevent the supply to our European clients.
The case went to the courts. A complicated case against one of Hovione's clients. Eng. Ivan villax, a born fighter, did not await the outcome and decided that Hovione would present itself as voluntary co-defendant in the Courts of 8 European countries.
Simultaneously, he started studying the patent law in various countries and found a window of opportunity in Ireland, where he could continue to supply his client without infringing patents still in force in Portugal. Thus Hovione Ireland was founded. It was 1990.
An agreement covering contract sysnthesis was signed between Hovione and plaistow, a plant in Cork, where Hovione started producing doxycycline hyclate, monohydrate and DMSC (doxycycline metaphosphate sodium complex) by campaigns.
Hovione established a Sales system, at that time In Travessa do Ferreiro. All results for each batch was received (total quantity per batch; number of batches; type of packing; total number of drums) as well as a sample of each batch which was duly analysed in Portugal and the respective Certificate of analysis subsequently issued.
One of our technicians went to Cork for the duration of each campaign. The clients' orders were received in Lisbon and instructions were sent to our contact in Plaistow, Cork with all necessary shipping instructions. Simultaneoulsy, a fax was sent to our shippers to collect the cargo, accompanied by all pertinent documents.
During about 4 years we supplied our European clients uninterruptedly without infringing any patent. Once the litigation was concluded our presence in Cork was terminated. This was in 1993.
The never give up attitude
This is not a story but I felt it was important to write down as it demonstrates the indomitable spirit that was Ivan Villax.
Perhaps the most stressful period that I experienced during my time with Hovione was during the patent litigation with Pfizer. We were constantly under siege. We had continually to reply to arguments and counter arguments from our adversary. Ivan Villax controlled the strategy and never admitted that he was beaten, bouncing back with renewed vigour after each knockdown.
Hovione always replied to the opposition, but never with flimflam. Wherever possible, Hovione’s replies were based on science. Hence, the Company invested a huge amount of effort in laboratory experiments and expert external witnesses to justify rebuttals. I remember poring over countless tables of analytical results from hundreds of experiments with Ivan and Philip Page to detect trends and to be able to construct our counter arguments. There was endless re-editing of the final texts to cover all of the angles before these were passed on to the lawyers for submission (Ivan was a perfectionists).
It is pertinent to remember that had Hovione lost this battle the Company may well have gone under. So everyone today, who is part of Hovione, owes Ivan Villax a vote of thanks for the “never give up attitude” which guaranteed the Company’s future.
Can you come along to my office?
Whilst sitting in my office the phone would ring and, after the usual good morning/afternoon the unmistakable voice would say “can you come along to my office?” Of course, more than not, I went immediately.
The route was through the laboratory next to his office, which Ivan insisted was kept operational. He was prone to appear unannounced through the connecting door to carry out a few test tube experiments or give instructions to Angelina, his life long laboratory technician, to test some of his latest ideas.
Ivan would ask me to sit down and offer me a coffee. If it was first thing in the morning I accepted willingly because the coffee was freshly brewed. I had learned that if it was later in the day I had to be careful not to accept. After brewing the coffee Ivan would switch off the coffeemaker and the coffee would grow cold. He drank coffee from the pot throughout the day, preferring to drink cold coffee, which still retained all the flavours rather than hot “stewed” stuff. I have never had a liking for cold coffee.
The subject matter of our discussions was extensive. It could be for me to give updates on the current happenings and results in the laboratory, to a discussion of some new ideas which he had had for some innovation. For example, after a trip to India or China he would come back with information that a particular raw material, such as hecogenin or diosgenin, could be obtained particularly cheap from these countries. We would discuss potential chemical routes to our generic steroids from these materials and would then put a plan together to do experiments.
On other occasions we had a private chat. He would demonstrate interest in the progress of the house we were constructing and wanted to see the plans and give ideas and input. (I believe that architecture/construction was one of his passions).
These were sessions that I looked forward to and one was always made to feel that your contribution to the Company was relevant and appreciated.
Dedicated to Mrs Diane Villax
It was the end of August 1990; I had just finished my course at University and needed a job. I replied to two or three advertisments in the Diario de Noticias and two days after I got a reply, requesting me to go to an interview at Travessa do Ferreiro in Lisbon.
I remember that day as if it was yesterday, sunny and with great expectations as to what was to happen. I was interviewed by Mrs. Villax, in the room where, I later discovered, the directors met.
I was very young and nervous until this extraordinary woman started to talk to me, checking my qualifications against the Firm’s requirements, a sentence in French, a reference in English, general knowledge, my personal interests, etc. After some time I realized I had shared with this lady, within such a short time, some of the most important things in my life. In an interesting conversation she had told me something about the accomplishments of Hovione, as well as the ethics of the Company, how it considered the staff and its attitude towards the environment.
A day later, much to my pleasure, I was summoned to start work at the Firm to which, even today, I still feel I belong.
I worked with Mrs. Villax in the Accounts Department. for nearly four years during which time I learned so much and had the privilege of meeting people of great character both professional and cultural.
But it was that wonderful lady who really marked this initial stage of my life. Her example, intelligence, wisdom, simplicity together with an amusing sense of humor, great courage and initiative and generosity.
My need to get a job obliged me to hide the fact that I had a University degree. However, when I learned that I was to become an effective employee, after my trial period, I could no longer cover up this fact so I told Mrs. Villax the truth, thus returning the trust being handed me. I feared the outcome. But I needn’t have. Mrs. Villax listened to me and accepted the situation straight away and we discussed what could have been my future in the Firm.
This trust has lasted through time, together with a great affection that the years and distance have done nothing but increase. I have kept up with Mrs. Villax who, despite her very full life has always had a moment for me, for which I am grateful.
As for Hovione, its secret is to make us feel an important part of that great family. Thereby resides its true excellence.
Enduring with Passion
Aspiration is common to most of the adventurous people like us who come to work abroad. I will never forget, with God’s grace, to keep up with this passion.
I remember the day, June 28, 1990 when I was hired by Mrs. Isabel Costa with the help of a friend Ms. Myrna Edrada, lab. analyst. I was accepted as a receptionist despite my profession as a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture.
I have felt happy & comfortable to join Hovione, a professional environment, because I was surrounded by colleagues close to each other, Chinese, Filipinos & Portuguese. At that time we were around sixty to seventy. Hovione in Macau was built up with different nationalities.
In those days, my slight knowledge of Spanish helped me to understand and speak some Portuguese words. Naturally, simple Cantonese was also a must to greet the visitors/auditors with a smile & say “Welcome to Hovione”; ordering uniforms & stationeries, arranging them in different cabinets & issuing DEX to the staff every Friday afternoon.
As Administration secretary, one of my tasks that I always enjoyed recalling was when I received a fax/letter for a "Purchase Order" which I would, immediately, pass on to my boss & prepare for the daily mail meeting. Everyday, Mr. Carlos Costa & Mr. Paulo Antunes, my former bosses would come and ask me “Lita do we have any Purchase order today?” Can I have a copy please? A daily routine that is full of excitement because I know that it gives a positive outcome for me, to the staff & for the whole company.
On a contrary, I almost quit my job when I got a problem with my back. I believe God gave me strength & courage to go on so that I can maintain my enthusiasm until today. I will have worked for 19 years at Hovione this coming June 2009. I believe Hovione is one of my memorable places since it is where I met my husband, learned lots of professional things and met kind hearted people. I treasure those in my heart, as the saying goes, “where your treasure is, that's where your heart is”.
I pray for Hovione’s success in the future. Mabuhay!
Hovione – the leader in Macau
Hovione Macau is the first pharmaceutical manufacturer in Macau to have obtained both ISO9000 quality management authentication and held the GMP qualification approved by US FDA at the same time. The quality requirements of Hovione Macau have effectively promoted the progress of the chemical industry in Macau and accelerated the pace of quality reform in relation to the respective supply factories.
Considering Hovione's 50th anniversary, the following story is provided by Mr. IH Chan of “Macau Chemical & Medical Gases Corp”. At the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s, many were the traditional and low-tech processing industries in Macau. These included the garment, clothing, bleaching and dyeing industry, electronic and toy industry as well as carpentry and furniture manufacturing industry. Since Hovione’s foundation in Macau, “Hovione Macau” has brought a new path for the local manufacturing industry and new factors for Macau’s foreign trade diversification projects.
Hovione Macau operates strictly according to the ISO9000 and GMP standards. Moreover, as one of its chemical suppliers, it is necessary for us to accept certain requirements and guidelines according to the Hovione Quality Control Department with which we comply.
Since 1990, fortunately, we acquired the approval of Hovione Macau and became their supplier.
Looking back, we ourselves and the domestic production factories in general were not accustomed to and even opposed to the implementation of ISO9000/GMP directions and regulations provided by Hovione Macau. The reason was that at that time Macau industrial level and management were still at the stage of the primary labour force concentration. and did not realise the significance of quality management in high-tech industry.
We are grateful to Hovione Macau for their continuous support. We find that as their supplier we have learned much useful knowledge and accumulated multidirectional quality management, as well as operation experience. Therefore, we herewith wish to express our thanks to Hovione Macau, from the Mangement to the Workers for their support which can be seen as intangible wealth.
As a result our business has expanded increasingly and we have established a stable market over the last ten years, in addition to being capable of coping with the impact brought by many economic recessions.
Simultaneously, thanks to the international high-class management technology we learned from Hovione Macau, our company became a predominant and strong competitor in the present market, looking towards the opportunity of globalization and investment as Macau contines to develop. This is what we really want to say with thanks to Hovione Macau.
Looking back at the over ten years, through the excellent cooperation with Hovione Macau Group, we made great improvements in chemical supply and quality control implementation, management concept, operation mode and risk control etc. For instance, the material package has the following change process.
1. With liquid Hydrochloric acid liquid and all other corrosive inorganic chemicals, the initial containers of 20litres plastic barrels have been upgraded to 22,000 litres capacity Steel outer and PE laminated inner vessel ISO tanks that conform to ISO14000 requirements. 2. Regarding the various organic solvents supply, the package has improved from the initial 200 litres iron drums to the present 24,000 litres ANSI 316 stainless steel ISO tanks approved by CSC international shipping organization, thus complying with the directives “special tanks for special item use”. 3. In the field of Air separated Gas and special gas supply, the 40 Litres. W.C. compressed gas cylinder with low capacity has been altered to the present 165 Litres portable liquid cylinder, 20m3 customer stationary storage tank and International cryogenic mobile ISO tank, and the capacity developed to 20’x10m3 to 40’ x33m3. The above package operation modes allow suppliers and buyers to conduct satisfactory quality risk control and save labour and time as well as being are more environmentally friendly in a long-term operation.
GMP operation skills allowed us to learn how to conduct selective management in operation; therefore, we could develop our business stably and safely and avoid severe accidents and crises occurred in previous years.
Having invested in the first compressed liquid gas storage warehouse in Macau, we expect to provide more secure services for our gas market and take on social responsibilities more effectively, when it comes into operation at the year of beginning of 2009 in Macau, Coloane SPW Industrial Zone.
Finally, we repeatedly express our thanks to Hovione Macau at all and wish Hovione Group make great profits in the future.
Expo 92 - Sevilha
Expo 1992 in Sevilha was the first great world exhibition of modern times in the Iberian Peninsula.
Hovione took the initiative to organize an excursion for its employees who were interested in going. We left on the 26 June 1992 in a bus en route to the Expo. This was where the adventure started. Our driver, for better or for worse, was called Prudence. It was in fact his greatest quality – he never went over the speed limit or overtook any other vehicle. We left Hovione at 18.00 hours and arrived in Sevilha at 6.00 the following morning.
The adventure was not over. At the hotel they made a mistake with the keys and gave us those reserved for the United Arab Emirates. We ended the night distributed amongst the available apartments – Gloria’s husband probably remembers that he opened the door to me, at dawn, in his underwear when I was still trying to fit someone else in that room.
At the actual Expo we tried to keep together as a group but at a given moment, Laureano, not one to loiter, said “1, 2, 3 this is over” and we never saw him again until it was time to meet at the bus for the return journey.
Despite everything it was a fun trip which I still remember.
A Welcome Greeting
I remember well two details relating to my arrival at Hovione. One when I arrived in Portugal on Sunday, 17 January 1993 and the other my first day at work at Hovione the following day.
The arrival in a foreign country, without your family, not knowing the language nor the customs... whatever, always causes some anxiety. I arrived Sunday afternoon in Carvavelos where Hovione had organized a villa for me to live in. I collected the key from D. Maria’s house, she looked after the villa and lived opposite. I entered the house and started walking through it. So large, so silent… But when I reached the kitchen it all changed. On the table there was a welcome note and next to it as well as in the fridge, a little of what was needed to start off – milk, butter, biscuits, cheese, ham, etc.
These details thanks to the personnel department, typical of the Hovione organization (which I learned about later) was enough to radically change my attitude straight away.
Next day, the 18 January, I left early to get to Hovione. I like to arrive early but in those days to get from Carcavelos to Loures, one had to to enter Lisbon and go via the Calçada do Carriche. Damn city, don’t tell anyone but I got lost and ended up in the old part of the Lisbon, up hill, down hill, it wasn’t easy, I had to ask and seemed to have gone round in circles….
When I finally arrived at the plant, it must have been 10 or 10.30. The Security Guard at Reception asked me who I was, obliged me to sign the entrance form and then advised me that I had to apply a spark arrester to my exhaust which was obligatory.
In the meantime, Mr. Villax had arrived accompanied by Peter Villax and there was I blocking the entrance with my car so they had to wait.
Head of Personnel greeted me, I was shown my office which I was to share with Mr. Valadas. Then Manuela Leite, Mr. Villax’s secretary appeared and asked me to come and meet him. Upon entering, Mr. Villax looked at his watch and then at me and said:
“well, not bad for the first day, eh?”
I tried to explain but, with a smile, he shook my hand and asked me to sit down. Then he explained what he wanted me to do and we started working. I would never have expected such an initial greeting!!
A Chemistry lesson
For several days in Mountain Island, near Taipa island where Hovione is situated, there had been construction works that involved explosives.
That day our work had been progressing normally until I heard a loud bang at lunchtime. Sitting at my desk I thought – this time the Chinese really have exaggerated with their charges!! But then I heard our alarm go off and realized that it hadn’t been an explosion at the construction works but in our Building 2.
The top of the precipitator which collected the water from the tower through which the gases were washed had exploded. Our emergency teams immediately got organized and inevitably the journalists started to arrive on the scene, trying to take photographs. Some of them arrived before the Taipa Fire Brigade!!
In order to avoid any exaggeration of the situation in view of the agglomeration of people around the plant and so as to calm the population it was decided to give a press conference. Mr. and Mrs. Villax were there as well as Carlos Costa and other members of the staff, sitting at a table. In front, dozens of over excited journalists, anxious for sensational news. They immediately started asking what was the scale of the damage, danger for the population as a result of toxic product and fumes, how many wounded or dead, etc.
Calm and collected, Mr. Villax started to explain what had happened, giving extensive technical detail, stating that there was no danger for the population of Taipa, not mentioning wounded or dead – non existent - , calming everyone.
The excitement in the audience evaporated. There was no sensational piece of news to relate. It was merely a small accident in a industrial plant in Taipa. That was how the news was given that evening’s on Macau’s TV station. What a great lesson of Chemistry!
PP01 the first project of Exclusives
It happened in February or March of 1994. At that time my office was located in the room just in front of the library in Building 1; I do not remember exactly what I was doing when the phone in my office rang. However, I remember perfectly the rest.
Dionisio, can you come to my office, please? It was the voice of the Engineer Ivan Villax on the phone. DM: Yes, I'll be over. IV: Thanks When I arrived at IV's office and after greeting me he invited me to sit down in front of him. IV: Would you like a coffee? He used to offer me a coffee. IV: Look, I have a problem. A big pharmaceutical company asked Hovione to prepare a few kilos of a compound to be used in clinical trials of a new drug candidate. It happens that the process is very dangerous and people here do not think we should do it. I pledged my word of honour as chemist with this company to do it. Dionisio, I want you to take these papers and study the process. You can go home for one or two days if you prefer and come back once you have studied the process. Then come back again to my office and tell me if the process can be done or not. But look… the Engineer Villax lifted up his forefinger …if you say that the process cannot be done, nothing happens because here nobody wants to do it but if you say that it can be done, you will do it.
The technical information of the process consisted in a five steps recipe including the analytical conditions for the IPC, the reaction schemes and a diagram with the configuration of the reaction unit for steps 3 and 5 (the two steps using DIBAC). The second step of the process was a dehydrobromination using Sodium hydride, the fourth step was a reduction with Lithium Aluminium Hydride and third and fifth steps were using DIBAC.
For the people less familiar with these reagents, Sodium hydride and Lithium Aluminium Hydride are reagents that need to be handled with precaution (exclusion of moisture) as they react vigorously with water evolving hydrogen. Nevertheless they are quite conventional reagents which are routinely used everywhere.
On the contary, DIBAC (diisobutylaluminium chloride) is a very strong reductor which reacts vigorously with water and with the oxygen of the air provoking self-ignition and explosion. It obliges work to be done in a specially designed reaction unit under strict conditions of water and air exclusion along all operations up to the total destruction of the excess of the reagent. The reaction and addition temperatures need to be maintained as low as below -70ºC in step 3 and -35ºC In step 5, which was an additional difficulty for the design of the unit and the execution of the process.
The next day I went back to the office of the Engineer Villax and I told him that the process was really dangerous but that my opinion is that everything can be done with the appropriate precautions and conditions and that the final was his as to whether the project was worth doing and the risk it involved.
Ivan Villax asked for me to explain how I planned to run the process. We both spent a couple of hours with me explaining and Ivan Villax putting questions, on how and where to run all the operations at both, lab scale and pilot scale. When at the end of the technical discussion Engineer Villax asked me what I would need to execute the project I said that we mainly needed two things (a) to adapt a reactor in a small area and build up the special reaction unit for the DIBAC reactions and (b) to select people with experience and rigor to run the pilot batches. We could not take more risks than those already known. Ivan Villax picked up the phone and asked Manuela Leite for Engineer Centeno to come tohis office.
Eng. Centeno was requested to give priority to all the necessary adaptation, work day and night, including week ends, everything that were necessary to speed up the project as by then we were already out of the committed delivery date of the product. Josef Balin (a Hungarian chemist in training period with me at HQ) and myself run the lab preliminary trials in the Sala de Reagentes IV, which was a small isolated room just in the North-West top corner of Building 1. (a) The group of the Eng. Centeno did an excellent wok and the special pilot unit in Building 9 and the rest of the adaptations in the area of Reagents in Building 1 were ready by April.
(b) José Carrilho and Alfredo André were assigned to take the responsibility of the pilot shifts. The requested quantity of PP01 was 10 Kg and by 10th of June we were ready to deliver 12 kg of product meeting client tight specifications.
Some days later I was asked again to go to IV’s office. Eng. Villax expressed me his thanks and satisfaction for the results of the project. Some time later I heard that Eng. Villax had also requested the presence and personally expressed his thanks to José Carrilho and Alfredo André.
I always enjoyed working with Mr. Ivan Villax and will always remember his enthusiasm, resolution and clear code of principles.
Bowie's bonding with "Hovione"
Back in the 1990's when I was studying at University and until I met Mr. Guy Villax, I could never have thought that one day I would be working as a professional in my chosen career. This does not come as a surprise in an underdeveloped country such as Myanmar, previously known as Burma (!) where people look for financial benefit rather than professional ways of live due to its political instability and economic situation.
Today, I feel very excited and proud to share my memories with Hovione, which has grown from a unique challenging family business to a more sophisticated corporate business. At the same time I also realize that I have achieved one of the words the late Mr. Ivan Villax told me before he left my house; "You are employed in Hovione and promise me that you will work in Hovione for at least 5 years to your benefit". On 10th January 1996 was the 1st day of my work; I started as Production worker in Hovione and I grew in values working at Hovione and the bond that we built during the past 12 years not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. Simultaneously, I continue to develop in my profession and in myself.
Actually my gratitude to Guy and joy in expressing this is unbounded because he was one of the persons who paved my life enabling my achievements since I first met him in the restaurant in Myanmar while I was working as part time waiter back in 1990’s during my studies.
Time flies when we are having fun! Surely it will never fade away from me those beautiful and unforgettable moments working in "Hovione".
Sincerity Understanding Challenging Cheering Education Evolution Determination....
It really touches me whenever those memories come across my mind as to how people bond as a result of hard work. It is my aim also to continue striving towards the high expectation that Hovione has for all its employees to grow in Macro environment & Corporate Business of Hovione. I hope Hovione becomes ever more innovative and maintains its position as a Pharma business leader. Happy 50th Anniversary!
Taking the right decisions for the wrong reasons
A few of the company shaping decisions were really taken for the wrong reasons - but there is a lesson to be learnt:
• In 1997 we bet the company on contrast agents - at that time Hovione's sales were $32m. We invested $20m in a new large production building (150m3) fully automated, with clean rooms and purified water loops for making these large batches of injectable grade material. By the time the building was ready, the learning curve has doubled the capacity of the old plant and some market disappointments made the large building unnecessary.
Fortunately on the week we were supposed to start-up the building and produce iopamidol, Giff Marzoni and Angela Birchler of Agouron, together with Dave Hoffman of Davos -our US agent then-, said they needed the new building to make Viracept - they needed it not later next year, but now, right now.
That day in late August, to close the deal, Giff had to call Glenn Zinser, VP-Head of Operations - I think he had to wake him up. Glenn and I spoke on the telephone and agreed. That afternoon the project team responsible for the new production building was told "it's been 2 years that you are working to start this plant for iopamidol, well, today the objective just changed" - 2 months later we had stability samples.
By February 1998 we had the plant reconfigured, the process validated, passed an FDA inspection and we were shipping 4 tons a month. We lost the 1st batch, Glenn had $2m in the vessel; he never blinked. We never lost another batch. Viracept had 5 chiral center, it was a 31 day cycle-time with only three isolations to make 500kg batches. The Viracept business paid for the building, paid back the debt and more. Contrast agents is now a business of our Chinese JV, it sells over $20m.
• By 2003 we had lost two great opportunities in the exclusives business because we did not have a spray-drier. When the 3rd opportunity came by, Hovione did not hesitate - we'd invest ! And we did. We discovered how difficult it is to buy from a supplier who believes he is a monopolist supplier. We invested €3m (more than needed, because we insisted it had to be the most versatile possible), it took two years, the customer said he'd buy 15 tons a year - 6 years later the most he bought was 5 tons in a year. No matter - this new capability, the knowhow we gained learning to use it, and some open-mindedness cleared the way for a new business unit to be created at Hovione. Particle Design is now 15% of our sales, and it is the fastest growing BU. We have since invested in 6 other machines and in several other technologies.
The lesson here is that you must take bold decisions - if there is a market opportunity go for it. But never put yourself in a corner, the investment - equipment or otherwise- must have other uses. There has to be a Plan B - even if you dont know what Plan B is at the time - the options taken must allow for alternatives and flexibility - and a good entrepreneur has to have the flexibility in his or her mind to see the alternatives. It is imperative to have lateral thinking, the business we are in is very risky, too risky to accept inflexible investments - to survive you must build flexibility in every investing decision, to succeed you need to be bold.
I had known and been friends with Diane since the days of the French Lycée. Then I studied in Belgium where I began working and met Ivan at the end of the 50’s. My friendship with Diane rapidly extended to her husband. This meant that I followed, with interest and admiration, the founding and development of Hovione.
I knew the plant in Sete Casas from the occasion of the European Environmental Prize they received in 1991 and had been in Macau in 1988.
At the beginning of 1998, when I was preparing to retire from my function of General Manager at Solvay Portugal, I received a visit from Diane, Ivan and Guy. They were inviting me to join the Board of Hovione Loures as a non-executive Director.
Guy had been named Managing Director and Ivan wanted to limit himself to the position of President of the Board.
The idea was for me to act as a “bridge” between both of them, guaranteeing good communication between them so as to avoid eventual conflicts.
Touched, I accepted the invitation; on one hand confident of the two men’s great intelligence but on the other hand anxious. I knew that Hovione’s success had been due to Diane and Ivan’s enterprising spirit as well as to Ivan’s chemical “genius” and his demand for excellence in carrying out his decisions.
There was a definite centralization of power! How would Ivan accept this handover? This was my worry. Rapidly I was reassured. The handover was exemplary. Ivan, that great scientist who had succeeded in giving his enterprise a substantial dimension, that demanding boss, although never forgetting the social concerns, knew how to limit his activity to that of President ever less executive, concentrating his efforts on his research and resulting patents. He learnt how to trust the younger generation with a view to the continuity and future development of the firm he had created.
Here again, he gave an example of great intelligence. What a lesson for many “entrepreneurs” who hang on to their power without realizing that in the end they damage their image and their work!!
3 kg of API taken by plane, as hand luggage, to Germany
In June 1999 having just finished producing the first batch of a compound in development against Parkinson/Alzheimer, our client requested the urgent delivery of 3 kilos of the batch to a factory in Germany.
As normal air freight would take too long and there was an established date for the beginning of the clinical trials, Guy asked for a volunteer from the team involved in this project to take the package containing 3 kg of the API.
I volunteered, the package was carefully packed and documented and I boarded the plane. It passed all security checks without a problem and off we went.
Once in Germany, I left the package well hidden at the back of the cupboard in my hotel room, went off to rent a car and have dinner, before returning to the hotel. Next morning, I checked out and drove to my destination, which took about 45 minutes.
The package was delivered. I advised Loures – mission accomplished - and returned to Lisbon. I spent 24 hours in Germany and it all felt like an adventure.
Our client was most impressed with our initiative –“That’s great customer service” and the clinical trials started on the given day and I was proud to have given a tailor-made service to our client.
At that time, Hovione was celebrating its 40 anniversary and for one who, at the time, had been at Hovione for a mere two years, it was a period which I remember with pride and happy memories for belonging to such a team.
The symposium at the Penha Longa Hotel was very well organized and, during the visit to our plant I made contact with several of our clients who stressed the enthusiasm we all had – and still have – for our Company. It was a week of intense emotions.
Looking for a suitable site for Hovione's expansion in Portugal
In July 1999 I was given a challenge: find a suitable site for a new factory for the production of APIs, being a Class A industry. Even then, 10 years ago, it was obvious that the Loures site would run out of space very quickly. We needed a contiguous plot of land as the Loures Development Plan did not permit a new Class A industrial site.
At the end of July we contacted 22 local authorities inquiring as to the possibility of building the new plant within their boundaries and, although it was during the holiday period half these entities answered us immediately - either yes or no - the other half replied later in the negative.
This contact with the local authorites taught me a lot about the country. Many of these authorities were more than ready to help but the total inexistence of any infrastructures required for the establishment of industry: adequate space - at least 10 ha in our case - access, utilities, water treatment facilities, public transport, etc. was totally frustrating.
The visits I made were not encouraging. Either there were cows or pigs nearby, or a residential area just off the plot suggested to us. Sometimes the land was more appropiriate for the installation of a giant roller coaster!!
We also visited industrial sites, where the available space per lot was 2,000m2. We visited old, abandoned factories where one could feel the previous activity and a vibrant life that had died. (Fireestone, Valmet, Ford, Renault, Adubos).
As time went by and bearing in mind everything else required before we had an operational plant (environmental impact reports, various building and planning licences, inspections, etc.) it became obvious that the whole idea of a production site was not viable. So we changed from the original plan to one of Research and Develoment, an activity which could be installed in the Loures area.
We tried to purchased a 13ha cork tree forest continuous to our Loures site and presented an ambitious pre-project iwhereby we would relocate our R&D activities, thus freeing a large amount of space at our Loures plant for industrial expansion. The Loures Municipality was anxious to help us and enthusiastic about our plan but the owners asked such an exorbitant price that the plan was dropped.
We studied the possibility of Quinta da Ramada, Quinta do Correio Mor, the project in the Loures Technological Park, all dependent on alteration of the Regional Planning Project and, which, to this day, had not materialized.
The moment, eventually, arrived when my learning curve in the Real Estate business ended. It was one more line of business that I undertook with great enthusiasm and followed through during these unforgettable 49 years at Hovione. Sadly, it did not end as I, as a Portuguese, would have wished: that Hovione could expand its industrial installations within the country's borders.
Neverthess, as a "HOVIONER" I am proud and happy that, in the meantime, other solutions have been found, permitting the Company to grow.
Now I realize what they said about my Grandfather
On day my Grandfather took me to his laboratory, I was about 8 or 9 years’ old, and I saw him carry out an experiment whereby he transformed a liquid from transparent to pink and vice versa.
Only about a year ago, when I started to learn chemistry in any depth, did I begin to understand the tricks my Grandfather did for me. Now I can give him his due as to his deep knowledge that everyone spoke about.
I miss him very much, both from a personal point of view as well as with regard to my scientific studies. I have projects and ideas and regret that he is not here because I know he would have told me immediately if they were viable or not.
Past History, futuristic perspective
I entered "my" Company 's factoruy in February 1997, that is to say 37 years' ago! I was part of a group with certain different qualitites. the Villax family named us the "Ministars"!
In this year of 2034, this Company of "mine" - Hovione - will have existed for 75 years and what an existence!
After working at Hovione for 12 years, back in the year 2009, I had many stories to tell, all involving many great colleagues whom I had met over the years. When I say Colleagues, I mean all of them, including Mr. Guy Villax; at least that was how he referred to himself back in the Spring of 1999, when he rang, me at home to tell me something I will never forget. And, please note, this call happened 35 years ago.
I had a problem with my back and couldn't move my neck. I remember leaning against the R301 reactor, where we were producing Nelfinavir in order to take advantage of the warmth to aliviate the pain. The doctors had merely prescribed injection after injection. One of my colleagues suggested I visit a orthopeadic specialist he knew. I made an appointment and was told I needed an operation costing €7,000.-
I was pretty desperate having been told what was necessary but not having the money to pay for it. I hadn't even handed in my Social Security papers to the HR Department papers in time. I simply did not know how to confront the problem. I spoke to Mr. Guy Villax and explained the situation to him and he replied that he will give me an answer shortly. The following day, he rang me at home, spoke to my Mother and identifyed himself just as "Guy Villax, a colleague from work..." and he told me that he had seen to it that I was included in the Hovione Health Scheme; told me to hurry up, collect the document from from the Insurance company so that the operation could be carried out without delay as I was needed at work.
Two months after the operqation I was back at work. I will never forget this episode ... and remember we are now in 2034!!now in 2034.
Congratulation HOVIONE for these 75 years! (these are my wishes)
Seeing the light - Quality in the eyes of Japanese clients
Hovione has been selling APIs to Japan for over 40 years. We were successful in Japan long before we sold in the USA, or before we were well-known in Europe. All these years every Hovione person that has dealt with Japanese clients has come back with amazing stories. It takes a great deal of time to start a relationship, but once the business starts and is consolidated by consistently meeting expectations, clients in Japan are loyal and one can expect a long term partnership.
Quality is certainly the one area we have much to learn from Japan, and packaging is a case in point.
In the late Nineties we were working hard to get another minocycline customer, and packaging was a problem. I knew that there was an issue about our aluminium laminated polyethylene bags; the issue of hygroscopicity and how to deal with it was a matter that had been going on for months, the client's packaging expert had come to Loures, and now I was in Japan to finally seal the deal and get sales to start. As the meeting came to an end at the clients' Tokyo offices, Mr. Hata, the senior person of a group of 8 grinned and said the packaging expert wanted to meet me. The expert entered with two large aluminium bags - one was ours, the other was Japanese made. He did not speak English, but motioned me to put my head in it; I smiled and did - then I took it off and looked at him flabbergasted. Then he proceeded to put our bag on my head and uttered 5 English words "Can you see the stars ?" - indeed our bag had dozens of pinholes through which light could be seen.
I finally saw the light !
Competence and Rigour
This is a simple story, told in a few words but meaningful. It relates to the importation procedures which Hovione carries out regularly.
Having learnt from our own mistakes, we implemented an internal procedure whereby our Customs' Broker was obliged to get our approval before submitting documents to the Authorities.
After conclusion, Purchasing would check the final Customs' document and there were usually some minor incorrections without legal or fiscal implications but which we considered avoidable and unnecessary.
From both our Customs' Broker and the Authorities themselves we got the message that it didn't really matter, it shouldn't worry us as everyone else did the same.
It took us a lot to persuade the authorities involved that if certain documents had to be completed with the correct information, this should be adhered to, but in the end we convinced them.
Mixture of Languages II
I had entered Hovione as Telephonist in September 2000 and after about a month, Mr. Villax asked me to connect to a firm he with which he was in constant contact, specifying the name of the person he needed to speak to.
The name he mentioned, in Hungarese (mixture of Hungarian and Portuguese) didn't seem to me to be that of our usual contact.
I made the connection and before passing it on, I told Mr. Villax the name of the person on the other end of the line to make sure it was correct.
After a few minutes, Mr. Villax rang me and asked how many languages I spoke. I told him and he, jokingly, replied "Dear Girl, you'll now have to learn "my" Portuguese.
That is how I learnt Hungarese.
.... Fix the Traffic Lights
Before we had the roundabout at the entrance to Loures there were traffic lights which always caused a traffic jam.
On a certain Friday afternnon, Mr. Villax left early and after a few minutes he rang me wanting to speak to Maintenance but there was no one available so I volunteered to take the message.
The message was: Have the electrician come to fix the traffic lights quicikly otherwise all of you will get home late tonight".
Just an example of Mr. Villaxs preoccupation with those who worked at Hovione and how anxious he was to facilitate their lives.
The Cord Quintet
In December of 2002 I was contacted by a gentleman with a calm, deep voice and a slight foreign accent, asking for assistance to meet a Hungarian Quintet who were arriving in Lisbon at the beginning of 2003 to play Hungarian music at a party to be held his private home in Manique.
In their luggage the musicians were bringing their instruments and at that time Hungary was not yet part of the European Union so that certain items, not considerable personal luggage, had to go through Customs’ clearance!
I spoke to the Head of the Customs about the matter and received a very positive response. No problem, when they arrive just let me know, I’ll authorize them straight away on the condition that the instruments return with their owners. Hovione sent a formal letter committing to this requirement.
On the 3rd January 2003 the Quintet duly arrived on a Lufhansa flight from Frankfurt and there, in the Arrivals Hall, was a tall, white haired gentleman (time goes by) waiting for them.
I entered the area reserved for staff and met the Quintet. But when I asked to speak to the Head of the Customs about the entrance of the Quintet’s instruments, I was told he was not due in that day. I froze as one never knows how the officials are going to deal with this kind of situation when it is necessary to overcome bureaucratic barriers.
The Quintet were waiting. The gentleman from Hovione was waiting. Until, Eureka, it occurred to me that the gentleman from Hovione might have with him copy of the letter sent to the Director of the Customs, that might be proof enough to show that the matter had been approved.
Sure enough, he had it, so the letter was shown to the official in charge and Open Sesame, the musicians could leave plus their instruments but they was told not to forget to take them with them upon leaving the country.
Off they went to play at the party which was a great success!
Final note: The two characters in this story were: 1) The gentleman from Hovione, Mr. Ivan Villax: 2) The undersigned
Once upon a time …. A friendship which has lasted 38 years!!
Greetings to all! Armando Bacelar Begonha
The Cord Quintet...plus the Double Bass
23rd December, 2003 … another day like so many others at Travessa do Ferreiro waiting for Mr. Villax to arrive in my office as usual on his way to the Loures’ plant. However, on this day he came with a special request – he needed a musical instrument, a Double Bass for a musical group arriving from Hungary in about two weeks.
I got going and contacted various shops selling or hiring out musical instruments but nowhere could I find such an item. In despair after two days I contacted a relative connected to the world of music, who suggested I try the Lisbon Musical Conservatory.
I got hold of the name of a teacher and in fact succeeded in located the necessary Double Bass but with strict conditions. I had to insure the instrument for the days it was required, I had to leave Mr. Villax’s identification details and find a way to collect it.
Everything seemed to be going well and I was to pick it up on the 30th December. We took Hovione’s Ford Transit, a double bass is really large, and to our horror found that the vehicle was too wide for the narrow streets we had to drive through to get to the Conservatory. We took longer to maneuver in and out of the street than to get all the way to Manique. But we were successful in the end and got the Double Bass to Manique in good time.
The Climax of a Career
I have many rewarding memories of this joint venture, abruptly ended by the death of Mr. Ivan Villax in June 2003. I visited him several times at Travessa do Ferreiro, for work, as he was preparing a paper to be presented together with Mrs. Zita Mendes at a meeting at the Aveiro University where, unfortunately, he was unable to be present.
Up to the end he showed unshakeable intellectual strength. I remember, a few days before his death, I went to Manique with Mrs. Zita Mendes, to bring him up to date on several matters. I was sad to see him although I didn’t imagine that the end would come so quickly. I lost my Father when I was 30 and in 2003 I knew the grief of losing someone whom I considered as my second Father. He always helped me in the most difficult moments of my life and that is something I will never forget.
But life continues and my work at Hovione also. It was very difficult for me to give up my office and to reread documents we had prepared together. When this job was completed I went to work at Pharma with Mr. Peter Villax where I continued with my translations and patent work. Isabel Pina was his secretary at that time. When she was invited to be Sofia Villax’s assistant I went along too.
I must confess that my last years at Hovione (2003-2005) were very difficult for me. I never recovered from the loss of Mr. Villax. And when the occasion arose I retired. I had worked for nearly 45 years and although I was still ready to give my all, it was time for the “Rest of the Warrior”! Thus I left Hovione but I try and maintain friendships from those years. It is a pleasure to follow the success of the Company that I saw grow and which saw me grow thanks to all that it taught me.
Last but not least, and without, in any way, forgetting those who helped me during this long course, I would like to express my gratitude to Mrs. Diane Villax and Mr. Guy Villax for their support and friendship.
Hovione and the fight for safe medicines
It is only five years ago when I met Guy Villax for the first time and heard him mentioning "the competitive advantage of non-compliance". But it actually feels like it has been much further in the past.
In that relatively short period Guy has astonished me by having made the crucial difference between failure and success in our industry's ongoing fight for the safety of medicines.
It was a big surprise for me to see a CEO with such passion for and vision on the increasing global safety problems with APIs. Moreover, his high level of understanding and profound knowledge of the technical and regulatory details behind the issue could never have originated from his university degree in Accounting and Financial Management! It was a fantastic and inspiring experience to fight shoulder to shoulder with such a great warrior!
In the end the "heparin affair" in 2008 underlined the cause we were battling for and its catalyzing effects ensured even faster progress towards our goal, that will now certainly be reached.
I think Guy is an exponent of what Hovione is and what it stands for. And probably it is also the other way around. No doubt Guy's parents deserve much credit for where he and the company stand today.
Many congratulations to all at Hovione with this fifty years milestone. May your future be bright!
Hovione, my common sense
During my Philosophy course I learnt something about common sense being the first notion of experience. With this in mind I would say that Hovione formed my common sense on a professional level.
It was there that I started my professional career at age 19, in the Calibration Laboratory as an operator. Over the 3 years I spent there taught me a lot and gave me experience at many levels. The only way I could retribute was by doing my best for Hovione and I hope that is still the mentalitity of those working in the firm, who should be grateful to form part of that gret team of professionals. May they take advantage and pride in the work of all those who have helped to build the Firm that exists today.
today I work at TAP, in the Meteorological Lab. and I still tell my colleagues and those I meet along my career that i miss those times spent working at Hovione and wished i had not left, but such is life.
May Hovione continue for many 50 years!
In one word I would describe Hovione as a School. A School both on a professional as well as a personal level. A school formed by fascinating people with whom I had the privilege of living and working during 8 years of my life and that helped me grow as a person and as a professional.
Hovione transmits strength and ensures that its staff always feels that they are part of a team and that only as a team can the required objectives be achieved. I speak for myself as I always wore the Hovione cap with pride. Literally speaking, in fact, for although I no longer work for Hovione I find myself wearing the shirts with the Hovione logo!
Thank you Hovione and that these are merely the first 50 years!
Hovione - 50 years protecting innovation
The scene I encountered, upon arriving in Hovione, late 2007, in the field of industrial property, was very different from that in most Portuguese firms.
Hovione recognises the vital role that innovation and its protection plays in the pharmaceutical industry and particularly its importance in the firms' growth and development. Here, industrial property is considered a priority, added value and not a subproduct of research ou an extra expense.
Hovione's staff are motivated towards the world of industrial property and incentives are granted to inventive minds, with specific training available in this area. Dozens of Hovione staff are co-inventors of many Hovione patents as well as those evolving from the collaboration in clients development projects.
The interest in this theme is a rich story of over 50 years' work connected with patents. Since the foundation of Hovione this has been the firm's main focus. It can be said that a large part of Hovione's success has been due to the inventiveness of its Founder, Mr. Ivan Villax, whose initial patents related to the fermentation and chemical synthesis of penicillin and tetracyclines as well as chloramphenicol derivatives.
At present, with about 400 patents granted worldwide, Hovione owns technology in such fields are antibiotics, cortisones, contrast media and inhalation, thus permitting the entrance to international markets.
In order to discover the reason for this unique situation, we have to go back over 50 years...
The beginning - antibiotics. Ivan Villax was granted Portuguese Patent PT33310 in 1956 which described a new compound, Pantofenicol®, a complex of a wide spectrum antibiotic, chloramphenicol, with sodium pantothenate. It had the advantage of avoiding the adverse side effects of chloramphenico. Based on the rights granted by this patent, Hovione initiated its international business, selling the product in Spain, Italy and Greece.
Still in the field of antibiotics, namely tetracyclines, Ivan Villax applied for more than a dozen patents, amongst which PT36099, covering a process for the halogenation of tetracyclines.. Another application of great importance, PT37424, abandoned in Portugal after 19 years of ferocious attack, was granted in several important countries, USA (US3432394) Germany, Canada, France, the UK, Switzerland and the Argentine.
These patents helped consolidate Hovione's position in the field of antibiotics which at one moment represented 80% of sales.
The 70's -corticorsteroids In 1957 Ivan Villax had been granted PT33309 relating to a process for the production of a non steroidal antiinflammatory compound. In 1969, Ivan Villax applied for patent PT52923 covering a process for the production of betamethasone and its derivatives. The process consisted of 18 consecutive steps, was elaborated in the basement laboratory at Travessa do ferreiro No. 1, and this patent as well as others which followed enabled Hovione to enter the field of steroids, prodcts of high added value to to this day much in demand.
The 80's Generics Since 1982, Hovione has been supplying semi sythetic antibiotics to the US generic . These are manufactured both at the Loures site as well as in our Macau plant, considered by the FDA as an"equivalent site".
We cannot but mention that not everything has been easy with our patents. There would always be someone´s business affected by our entrance into the market duly covered by a Hovione patent. Thus, over the years several of our clients would be accused of patent infringement in conncection with our doxycycline. Hovione would immediately join in the court case as co-defendant giving full support to the client being sued. Ivan Villax with his vast knowledge in the field would establish the defense and by 1992, all litigations had been concluded, some won others by an out of court agreement.
The 90's - new technologies This decade saw the arrival of new products and technologies, namely contrast media for which PT101720 (1995) was granted covering a process for the production of iopamidol and PT101919 covering the production of iohexol, together with the equivalent internationl patents.
First steps were taken in the field of inhalation, PT101450 was granted, covering an inhalation device, FlowCaps®, which has since been granted in 45 countries and licensed to two firms. be affected
The new Millenium - expansion. In addition to selling products and chemical systhesis services, Hovione has also entered the field of spray drying and inhalation.
During the first decade of the new century Hovione has new industrial plants in China and Ireland and continues to innovate with patents covering new manufacturing processes and medical devices. TwinCaps® - a disposable inhaler - is covered by PT1003481 (2006) and the equivalent international patent has been applied for in 45 countries.
The future Particle design, inhalation and formulation are Hovione's main new areas of development and which will guarantee the new generation of industrial property.
In a world of diminishing new molecules and an ever increasing generic market, it is most important to focus on industrial property protection as well as to constantly check for eventual infringement of one's patents. Simultaneoulsy it is important to maintain a check on patents granted to others in the fields of interest to us.
The establishment of the Department of Innovation and Product Development in 2007 shows how Hovione is intent on maintaining this role. We are anxious to incentivate new ideas with a view to building Hovione's future by transforming Knowledge in Value.
Congratulations Hovione, on 50 years of innovation.
Top Class Treatment
I worked at Hovione for 5 years during which time I admired how the Firm was managed, particularly by Mr. Guy Villax, who opened the doors to us, my cousin and I, regardless of our nationality.
I was treated as Portuguese, did my best for Hovione, am grateful for having worked there and for having made friends I still keep up with today.
At present, I own a warehouse for building materials in Brazil, have employees and wish to give them part of our profits as I, too, received at Hovione.
Thank you Guy Villax and if ever you require building materials:
Depósito Tiradentes Ipatinga, Minas Gerais, Brazil
is the address. Ozanan Alex Pinto, the Brazilian
Back to Ireland, 20 years later
On the 11th December I was excited and happy to read an email from the Hovione Board of Directors, announcing the acquisition of Pfizer's factory in Cork, Ireland.
The announcement specified that Hovione had appointed as General Manager of the new plant Lorcan MacGarry who, 20 years ago had been Production Manager and our contact at Hovione Ireland in Plaistow.
Fate determined that we should return to Ireland, this time to stay!
2000 – May. My first contact with Mrs. and Mrs. Villax.
At the time of writing, 8 years of good and some less so have gone by at the office in Travessa do Ferreiro. Always challenging and where there is no monotony, but marked by the sad departure of Mr. Villax.
Mr. Villax is a man whom I remember with admiration. For a short period of three years I had the pleasure to work under his guidance, in the most varied aspects. Even today I still admire Mr. Villax’s intelligent and, often, practical, way of thinking and solving problems, which, for an unexperienced boy, my case, seemed enormous and unsurmountable. He was demanding…but fair and a perfectionist.
Mrs. Diane Villax is someone from whom I have learned much and I owe her a lot. Thanks to her daily leadership, guidance and friendship, I have grown and developed over these 8 years. It have the utmost respect and admiration for this lady from whom it is difficult to disguise anything. She says this can be learned but I am convinced she has a special talent, or flair, to detect certain unclear or unusual situations. Not by this meaning that she does not have the same “flair” in positive circumstances.
I watch and try to learn from her, which is not easy … maybe I’ll get there someday! She leads an intensive life, envied by many younger, and the energy she exudes is visible and evident. Also demanding and a perfectionist.
The descendants of these two special people … “those who follow theirs do not degenerate”, and to the younger generations I wish the wisdom and training capable of continuing this success started 50 years’ ago.
Feelings about working in Hovione
Time goes fast; I have been working at Hovione for over 20 years. At the time I started working in Hovione in 1986, the building was still under construction. Hovione was the first Portuguese large-scale chemical factory set up in Macau.
Although I had been working as a mechanic for many years, I only had limited knowledge of the mechanical operation in the chemical industry. Hovione offered me many opportunities to increase my knowledge. When I first joined Hovione, I worked with several mechanics who were transferred from headquarters. I learned a lot from them.
In 1989, two colleagues and I were transferred to the headquarters in Portugal for training. There, I learned a lot of skills and techniques for further development.
Throughout these years I worked closely with my superiors. Sometimes we might have different opinions; fortunately, we could overcome them. Every year in August during the maintenance period I always get a lot of challenges. It is extremely busy and backbreaking. However, it can still be smooth going, and I get great satisfaction from this.
Hovione expands continuously. In addition to the increase of reactors from a few to more than ten now, there is also a wider variety of pharmaceutical products. Being a member of Hovione staff, I am proud to the achievements that the Firm has made. Besides, I appreciate the trust from my superiors and that my effort is identified.
Finally, it’s the 50th Anniversary of Hovione, I hope that Hovione keeps on expanding successfully and obtain even more potential business in the future.
MY HOMAGE TO MR. IVAN VILLAX
In homage to the friend, to the honest man he always was, to the scientific genius and excellent “entrepreneur” whose legacy must be nurtured and continued, it would be my honor if these words were referred to in the publication that will commemorate the Golden Anniversary of Hovione.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Ivan Villax during the first half of the 60’s, when I was Head of the Inventions’ Service, incorporated in the, then called, Industrial Property Department . This entity was responsible for granting patents, when Hovione’s office and its laboratory were located first in the Travessa do Moinho do Vento and then in the Travessa do Ferreiro.
I am proud to know that the title to the patent that covered Hovione’s first product, today on display in a vitrine, as a symbol of the beginning of the Mr. Villax’s and his Firm’s success, bears my signature.
A friendship based on mutual respect and which lasted during the 40 years of my service at the Industrial Property Department grew between Mr. Villax and myself. This friendship and mutual respect was obvious from our frequent informal contacts.
Many times, Mt. Villax would visit me at the offices of the Industrial Property Department and, later, at the National Institute of Industrial Property and between us we would study the legal and technical questions relating to the evolution of Industrial Property legislation – The European Patent Law, the PCT and the project for the Community Patent Law.
Consequently, Mr. Villax was a constant presence at symposiums and other INPI Initiatives, often as a speaker, to which I had invited him and which he never refused.
I had the pleasure to visit Hovione’s excellent installations in Sete Casas several times and, once, taking advantage of a trip to Macau, I also went to their plant in Taipa.
Today, undoubtedly, Hovione holds unequalled scientific and technical knowledge within Portugal and throughout the World. This is an obvious example of the perseverance and determination of a man of exceptional technical, scientific and human characteristics – Mr. Ivan Villax.
Sadly, Mr. Villax has left us but his life’s work and his memory will live in our thoughts, such as:
“Those whom by great deeds free themselves from death” (Camoes)
Lisbon, April 2008 Jose Mota Maia
Homage to Mr. Ivan Villax
I met Mr. Villax professionally at the beginning of the 80’s, when the BPI Group started operating, through my good friends from work, Francisco Veloso and António Seruca Salgado.
Hovione, the firm he so ably led, even in those days, was well known abroad, with special prominence in the demanding field of American generics.
I met him several times, at his plant in Loures and was always surprised by his exception capacity for innovation, conception and development of new projects. Simultaneously, the firm was ambitious for international recognition and already had a strong presence in the U.S.A. (New Jersey) and the Far East (Macau).
My colleagues and I always saw Hovione as a case of exceptional success, based on scientific research, good management and a rare commercial genius.
I have good memories of Mr. Villax who, by a happy coincidence, chose Portugal as his destination, where he became a researcher of merit and a successful “entrepreneur”. Thus we can all benefit from his exceptional qualities – honesty, a strong personality, great leadership capacity, unshakeable courage, a kind and cultured man. Lastly, I would like to point out how his extraordinary wife, Diane, helped build a family capable of continuing his work in an outstanding way, which has contributed towards the increasing prestige of our country.
Hovione 50 years celebration
In 2009 Hovione will celebrate its 50 golden years of operation and at the same time I will achieve 20 years of work at Hovione Macau. During all these years, I have witnessed many changes in Hovione, especially in HM. I would like to take this opportunity to share, briefly, some of my experiences with you.
The location of HM plant was so deserted, the road in front of HM was basically not used by people other than HM staff. I could take as long as I wanted to cross from our front gate to other side of the road without running into any cars. I could see the vegetable field across the street from my office window. If you wanted to ask the taxi driver to take you to our plant, no taxi driver would understand where to take you.
The plant itself had about 70 to 80 staff and we did not have Block 2A (the Automation Production area), Block 11 (the offices + workshop) and Block 9 (the greenhouse/canteen), the HERB. NIMI was the powerful system application we had to handle the day to day operation.
We are on one of the busiest roads in Taipa, as it is a popular way to go to Macau International Airport and the Friendship Bridge to Macau Jetfoil terminal. You would have to run and avoid traffic to cross to the other side of the road, which is why this is strongly prohibited. The good news is, most of the taxi drivers know where HM is.
We have about 125 staff members and have doubled the production capacity. We are an ISO 9000 and 14000 certified company. We no longer have NIMI, but we have SAP (one of the most powerful ERP) and other Stream applications in our daily operation.
We were honored by Mr. Edmund Ho Hau Wah, Chief Executive of Macao SAR, who cut the ribbon during the Block 2A inauguration ceremony. We treasure the Chinese culture, and at the same time, we promote the Portuguese culture by holding St. Martins day on an annual basis, among other activities.
And the exciting project of the joint venture Company - Hisyn China, leads Hovione to write another golden page into its 50 year book of successful milestones.
As a whole, I have witnessed many changes in Hovione; HM Plant, System Applications, Management Policy etc. However one thing I believe has never changed, that is strong Hovione "TEAM" spirit that has driven the company to where we are today. I am sure that same spirit will carry us successfully into the future!
Hovione from a Metalware and Machine supplier's point of view
Hovione has been a manufacturing plant of pharmaceutical ingredients for decades. This year, it is the fiftieth anniversary of the Hovione Group. Our company, Ng Kee Metalware and Machine, is very glad for this celebration. We provide goods that Hovione Macau needs. We have been partners with Hovione Macau for such a long time. Whenever staff from Hovione Macau buy goods from us, we feel that they are very friendly and serious. Therefore, we feel good to be their supplier. I hope Hovione continues to prosper after this fiftieth anniversary and we also wish to continue being a partner of Hovione's for the next few decades.
Passion for fine chemicals
A passion for fine chemicals My history with Hovione, or, more precisely, Guy Villax, and my common passion for fine chemicals doesn’t go back 50, but only 10 years, but I wouldn’t want to have missed them.
As global travellers, we met in very different places. The first major event I remember was a tour of the Loures plant in July of 1999. Guy very proudly showed me the new “building 15” with its impressive 155 m3 total reactor volume.
Two years later, in 2001, we travelled together in a bus from the Waldorf to East Windsor NJ, for the opening of Hovione’s “Technology Transfer Center”. When I expressed my admiration for his visionary undertaking, Guy replied very modestly: “You know, Peter, I mainly view this as a marketing tool”.
On another occasion, we sat on the terrace of the Hotel Schweizerhof in Basel, where we philosophized on the outlook for the fine chemicals industry.
More recently, in Summer 2008, we had a telephone conversation between Salzburg, where Guy and his family traditionally attend the Festspiele, and my mountain retreat in Verbier. As a contribution to an editorial I was preparing, I had asked Guy to write a few lines on his views on family owned as opposed to public companies. Guy very kindly provided me shortly afterwards with a delightful essay on his very personal experience and views. I am pleased to quote just the final passage of it: “Aged 8 or 9 I remember my father returning in the evening from work with a twinkle in his eye – he was ecstatic because someone in the lab had finally been able to get that reaction to work.That’s probably why I do what I do.”
Peter Pollak Reinach, Switzerland
Poem written by the Grandaughters for their Grandmother’s 73rd birthday
To the banker she says Risks are to be run, To the grandchildren, Learn how to live!
A Lady without equal, Who has travelled the World, India, Camboja and Nepal, Just think how much she covered!
Always the first for an adventure, Nobody would saw she was 73, She is a pioneer at everything And has an inexhaustible energy.
Now into consumables? Well, then take these words, As to describe her They are indispensable.
Congratulations dear Granny Stay with us always, Teach us about Life, To listen to you, we are always here.
Maria and Carolina
The story of the piece of string.
I started work at Hovione, Travessa do Ferreiro No, 1, in 1973. The office had a very high ceiling and after a number of years more space was required so it was decided to build a mezzanine over the ground floor where the accounts Department was installed.
There was a large window which opened to both levels and against which were desks situated, above and below. Documents were passed from one level to the other by means of a clip on the end of a string. I had to laugh every time a paper went up or came down. The Chief Accountant said I had to laugh to myself or Mrs. Villax might hear me.
After all these years, communication is made thanks to the latest technology but I always find it amusing to remember these ancient methods...
I grew up with Hovione, learned to take advantage of any experience - puntuality, responsability, rigor, work methods, all passed on by the Villax family, especially by Mrs. Villax with whom I worked for many years and to whom I owe so much.
Until we meet again
Colleagues and Friends,
Finally, the time to say goodbye and to give place to the younger generation has arrived.
For 29 years I lived with this great Company – Hovione – which I saw grow and which continues to grow, where I learned much and made every effort to ensure that Hovione’s image continues to extend far beyond the country’s frontiers.
From the bottom of my heart I wish that Hovione’s success, growth and development continues for the good of the Firm and its staff.
I won’t say goodbye because we will continue to see each other daily as my wife still has quite a few years in front of her at Hovione.
I will just say “see you…” to all those with whom I worked, from whom I learned and to my friends and those who mean much to me. I want them all to know that they were my smile and will be my memories.
My thanks and the best of luck to all. José Guimarães.
Memories of an old aunt
Happy birthday Hovione - I have known you since you were no more than a twinkle in your father´s eye, as the old aunts always say...Given your parentage no one doubted you would be a child to be proud of but you have certainly exceeded expectations. So here you are all grown up and what a long way you have come! From the days of "cottage industry" - the tiny hall at Travessa do Moinho de Vento, exports piled high to the left and essential production ingredients to the right - to a whole extended family of your own numbering nearly one thousand and stretching from China to the US and including Ireland. I wish the extended Hovione family an even more successful 50 years ahead- when there is so much to celebrate the only regret is that your father is not around to celebrate your achievements.
Tetracycline sold to Vietnam during the early 60s
Rolling back the clock 50 years is a real test, no, an impossibility. there are only fragments and making sense of them is - not very reliable.
Were I a fortune teller I would see:
- A trip to Lisbon and staying in an opulent hotel that had impressive copper pieces in the foyer. then off to a business meeting with someone called Hovione, where I met Ivan and his wonderful Hollywood accent.
- And then there was an older man in a blue tunic who was the senior (seigneur) of the Hovione group. We talked product amd terms. Both sides were real amateurs so we ended with expressions of great hope!
- Portugal in the early sixties was high up on the "top ten poor list", so they qualified under the US AID PROGRAM, who supplied dollars to pay Portugal pharma. It was, probably, the catalyst for the development of the Portuguese pharma industry?
- Our chose product entry was tetracycline 250mg tabs., in foil and the boxes all had to have little red, white and blue stickers, that had a symbolic "handshake" on it as an expression of "guess who paid for these?" Hovione staff evidently became quite good at stickering.
- the next memory - MILANO. Meeting Diane for dinner and not understanding how you and Ivan had driven from Lisbon to Milano in some unbelievable and heroic time.
And the next morning, I see us at a chemical factory, on the edge of Milano and meeting Mr. Braun and a Dr. Fiorentino. We walked round the complex, which I remember had many water cooling and mixing tanks that looked sinister and dangerous. Gràce à Dottoro Villax, this was the beginning of the "International Tetracycline Wars" and the "Hovione Caper".
Then it seems to be "Hovione moves to California", (again because of USA eligibility rules i.e. had to be "made in America" but still with the stickers.)
We sold a lot of tetracycline in Vietname. And then one day, the war in Vietnam ended and I left on "the last flight out of Saigon" with an armful of babies, given to us by desperate mothers.
Fast forward to the late 70s/early 80s and an O?Neill factory in New Jersey. an old friend, Jim smith called me to ask what I knew about Praziquantel? the Rockefeller Foundation wanted to find/buy tons of it. Bayer was charging then $4-500/kg. It was for Schisosomiasis and other river parasites. A noble cause which led us to the "Savant of Lisbon", Dr. Villax. You entertained us well, Ivan had found a process independent to that of Bayer and we were, sort of, counting the profits. It was not to be, today the price of praziquantel is $30/40 per kg and my good friend Jim Smith, an ex-colonel in the cavalry (tanks) died in the Lockerbie Pan Am crash.
Then a huige gap of years, until we met again in Hongkong and Ivan encouraged me to move to Macau. thanks Ivan. And thanks to Hovione GM Carlos who helped me a lot, at the beginning.
It's late, Diane, and I'm off to India in the morning. I hope the content is 2not too disappointing". My generation slipped into various levels of dementia and much has been forgotten. But it's been a nice walk through yesterday. thank you. I hope someone will award you and your children and perhaps a lot of long time employees "Entrepreneurs of 2009". You have really done a remarkable job. so with uyour new chinese partners, I wish you "Ten Thousand Years" and my congratulations. Pete
In my memory, Hovione is not very big but very distinctive company. The company's business philosophy has always been very clear-that is, to create profits. I remember that once a time in order to improve the production process of HISYN, we need to apply for additional investment, some of which will not be effective. The result is no doubt that the budget have been rejected. Mr. Luis Gomes has explained, as I remember today (though at that time my English was poor and I could only understand a little) "yes, we do have some money. But why we have money is because we spend money very carefully.