El-Hibri Fuad Blog

Maker of anthrax vaccine discusses challenges of marketing overseas

Posted on: August 17, 2009

BioPort is the only FDA-licensed producer of the anthrax vaccine.

Fuad El-Hibri, chairman and CEO of Emergent BioSolutions Inc., speaks March 9 in Sage Hall. Kevin Stearns/University Photography

On March 9, MBA students taking International Political Risk Management, a course taught by Elena Iankova, a lecturer at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, heard Fuad El-Hibri, chairman and CEO of Bioport’s parent company, Emergent BioSolutions Inc., discuss the hurdles his firm faces in making and marketing its products abroad.

His guest lecture was titled “Managing International Risk in the Bio-Defense and Telecommunications Industries.”

Using his own company as an example, El-Hibri outlined six areas of risk in international business, among them export/import regulations, politics at home and abroad and financial issues. Much of his talk focused on political issues ranging from export regulations to how to deal with foreign governments.

One hurdle: when BioPort sought to export its anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, the U.S. Department of Defense claimed the vaccine was primarily of military importance and should therefore fall under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Under ITAR, export of the vaccine is controlled by the Department of State and a license is required for each sale. BioPort succeeded in arguing that its product was non-military in nature and therefore belonged under Export Administration Regulations (EAR). Exportation under EAR is controlled by the Department of Commerce and has far fewer restrictions.

El-Hibri seemed to take such challenges in stride. “Obviously,” he said, “the U.S. government is interested in vaccines, especially bio-defense vaccines.” It controls which countries vaccines can be exported to and may use them as a bargaining chip in its own deals with foreign ministries of defense, he commented. “They like to throw our vaccine into the mix and say, ‘Listen, if you buy one more tank or one more fighter jet … we’ll throw in 10,000 doses of anthrax vaccine,'” he said. But such giveaways create problems for companies like BioPort by reducing demand for its products in foreign countries.

Some uncontrollable variables that affect the demand for vaccines are: Politics within the foreign country, the country’s relationship with the United States, its finances, its fears about external threats and regional geopolitics, noted El-Hibri.

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