Vaccine player faces “radical” new market

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Welshman takes over at MSD Animal Health in Bergen, Norway

Versatile Welshman: MSD Animal Health’s, Dafydd Morris

“Mitt navn er Dafydd. Hyggelig å hilse på deg.”

The hired-in Norwegian teacher is collecting her things,  when SalmonBusiness drops in for a visit.

His first Norwegian lesson over, Welshman Dafydd Morris has taken over the corner office and the boss’s chair at MSD Animal Health at Marineholmen in Bergen.

The 46-year-old is taking the reins of a company in transition.

“Many have left MSD over the last 12 months. I want to reconstruct the team,” he says.

Supreme Court
One of the reasons is a Supreme Court decision from December last year. That’s when MSD Animal Health’s patent and defacto monopoly on vaccines for pancreatic disease (PD) was broken, with immediate effects in the mark. Arch rival Pharmaq is already in-place with its PD vaccine and Elanco has a third path. Pharmaq changed the PD-vaccine market earlier this year, and has, according to Morris, taken a “competitive” market share.

“It’s a completely different PD market. Elanco is developing a new, so-called DNA vaccine, but they don’t have marketing permissions yet. We expect that they’ll get that soon,” he says.

For years, the PD vaccine has given MSD its most important income stream. Over the next year, the market will expand from one to three suppliers. That changes the competitive environment and business terms radically.

Internal affair
After Johan Kvalheim said So long last autumn, MSD recruited internally and brought Morris from Scotland to Norway. He has a biologist’s training from the University of Cardiff and experience raising finfish and shellfish along with aquaculture management and fish health.

“I started in MSD in 2009 as a technical director in the Aquaculture Department. Then it was time to lead MSDs activities in North America and then Scotland.”

The jump across the North Sea wasn’t too far. “I knew the team here in Norway from before. We have a lot of cooperation over national borders in MSD, and we often meet at conferences etcetera,” he says.

Now he’s leading MSDs effort in the Nordics, which is naturally dominated by activity in Norway. He’s understands the assignment completely.

“To build expertise and customer support toward becoming the industry’s preferred health supplier. For me, it’s about partnership, and not just about us. How can we work together on R&D, for example. I think it’s true globally, as well.”

Sea lice
Apart form the PD vaccine, the battle with sea lice is central to MSD’s activity in Norway. The work is fronted via lice agent, Slice, but the company also has other things in the works.

“We have a lot in the pipeline. There’s obviously a lot on the go, but I’m afraid I can’t comment on that,” he says apologetically.

“I believe it is important for us to maximize our own products. We now have a Slice database, too. This can be used to find out how Slice can be used most effectively. We measure the effect of the agent, and if that decreases, then we have to see the reasons for it. Is it the environment, the fish, the illness? There are a whole range of factors that can play a role.”

“We’re looking for a new key account manager. By the end of the first quarter (2018), we should have a full team in place. It’s an open market now. There’s real client focus — what do they need, and how can we help them.”

Open competition
The transition from a monopoly situation for your main product to one of competition can demand a whole new set of skills than earlier.

“Find solutions. Listen to customer feedback. The challenge is to rebuild confidence, and we can do that by bringing in new minds.”

Vaccines are still the most important product in the MSD portfolio. New products from Pharmaq and Elanco should also offer new perspectives: effectiveness, safety, added growth and lower mortality.

“It’s a good opportunity for me, personally, coming to Norway, the world’s No. 1 salmon producer. To lead a passionate team who want to work on fish health for customers,” Morris submits.

The future
From his position in MSD, Morris observes with excited interest the development of innovative new production models for farmed salmon.

“Many countries have aggressive growth ambitions,” he says, pointing out production concepts for land-based, closed marine and open marine farms. “I think the market price will determine where we go, although much is driven by innovation.

“I was at AquaNor (in Trondheim) this year, and there were so many companies I hadn’t heard about earlier. I believe it’ll be a mix of offshore, land-based and the majority of production will happen with today’s traditional systems,” he ventures.