By Barry Teater
When Piedmont Animal Health this fall scored a strategic equity investment from Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo, it was business as usual for the 24-employee Greensboro company. The company, which separated from Piedmont Pharmaceuticals in 2016, is accustomed to collaborating with Bayer, Zoetis and other large companies in the $13 billion global market for pet health products.
The investment by Sumitomo’s life-sciences division is a natural progression of Piedmont’s business relationship with the Tokyo-based Fortune 500 company, says Roland Johnson, Piedmont’s founder and chief executive officer. The two companies began working together in 2015.
Terms of the investment were not disclosed, but the stepped-up partnership will give Piedmont access to new chemicals and parasitology products from Sumitomo and its Japanese partners while providing access to markets in Japan and some Latin American countries for its own innovations.
“Japan is difficult for a company of our size or any Western company to properly commercialize in, so finding the right partners in Japan is very important,” says Michael Kelly, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. “Sumitomo can certainly help with that.”
Anyone with a cat or dog has likely bought a product developed by Piedmont or other companies that previously employed members of its executive team, including Novartis and its predecessor, Ciba-Geigy. Johnson worked for Ciba-Geigy before co-founding Blue Ridge Pharmaceuticals in Greensboro in 1996; Maine-based Idexx Laboratories bought the pet health company two years later.
Using a simple KitchenAid mixer and some clever chemistry, Piedmont’s scientists invented a soft, tasty treat that can be infused with pharmaceuticals. For pets, pet owners and veterinarians, the meat-free chewables are a welcome alternative to shoving pills down animals’ throats. Piedmont in 2010 sold the chewables technology to Bayer HealthCare Animal Health, which uses it in two products for dogs: Advantus, a flea medicine, and Quellin, a pain reliever.
Since that deal — the company’s largest since its founding in 2001 — Piedmont has sold two other products to Bayer: a single-dose treatment for canine ear infections and a tick spray for dogs and cats.
About 20 more products are in development, including pain relievers, antibiotics and a treatment for feline kidney disease.
Much of Piedmont’s $10 million annual budget for research and development flows to North Carolina companies that perform contract work for Piedmont. Those contractors, which include Durham-based Alcami, employ about 100 people.
“Even though we may appear small,” Johnson says, “we have a very big footprint.”