Passionate research from Tessin is improving health all over the world.  Riccardo Braglia, Helsinn Healthcare SA, improves quality of life for cancer patients. 

Helsinn Healthcare: Quality of life for cancer patients

As CEO of the Ticino-based pharmaceutical group Helsinn, Riccardo Braglia has to date worked successfully on improving people's quality of life during chemotherapy. Now he wants to go further – and he and his company are entering the fiercely competitive cancer drugs sector.

He actually wanted to be an engineer. His vision was to create large structures like the Gotthard tunnel, but things worked out differently. Nonetheless, Riccardo Braglia has made great things happen. He has been the sole CEO of the pharmaceutical company Helsinn, headquartered in Lugano, with its manufacturing plant located in Biasca, in Ticino, since 2007. That's where he heads this third-generation family business, which he has more than doubled in size in recent years. Today, Helsinn operates internationally, with around 700 employees in Switzerland, Ireland, the US, and China.
Outside the company too, Riccardo Braglia is regarded as an exceptional entrepreneur. In 2011, he was named the Best Entrepreneur in Ticino, and the following year Ernst & Young voted him Entrepreneur of the Year in the Life Sciences category.

"An entrepreneur never stops being an entrepreneur" – Riccardo Braglia

Countering the side effects of chemotherapy

Helsinn’s core business is developing drugs that alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, the main ones being nausea and vomiting, muscle wasting, and severe diarrhea. "It's an interesting area because the big multinational companies do not position themselves there. The market's too small for them and prices are low," Braglia explains. Helsinn found its niche in this market and its services cover a broad spectrum – from product development to production and the licensing of the drugs. The company has developed a series of drugs in recent years. One example is the well-known drug Palonosetron, which was introduced in 2003 under the trade name Aloxi® and has since been used worldwide with great success to prevent nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment.

Standing still is not an option

But there is no question of Riccardo Braglia resting on his laurels. Never standing still, remaining curious, and always setting himself new goals – these are his ambitions, to which he devotes himself tirelessly. As early as six in the morning, the boss is already sending his first emails. "Our day-to-day business in Lugano and Biasca consists of constantly searching for the best solutions, and new technologies, developing them for ourselves and for others. That's what I'm committed to. And I just happen to be especially productive in the morning. Everyone here knows that," says Braglia with a laugh.

New ideas are rewarded

Braglia is a fine figure of a man with expressive eyes and a Mediterranean complexion; he comes over as decisive but by no means unapproachable. And that matters to him. He wants the mentality in his company to be open and innovative, and everyone should contribute. In order to create an incentive for this, he has even introduced bonuses for innovations. People whose work in the company leads to new ideas benefit financially: "It could be something small and everyday," he explains. "An improved process, a new quality, a suggestion that leads to a positive change in certain projects."

New leukemia drug

In the next few years, Braglia will achieve his next ambitious goal. Together with his managers, he has now decided to focus on developing drugs for cancer treatment itself – even though the market is hotly contested by the big international players. This year, Helsinn will launch a new drug for cutaneous lymphoma, and in the future will bring two more products to market for the treatment of acute leukemia and lung cancer. In addition, a second manufacturing facility for cancer drugs will open this year in Biasca, another milestone in the 43-year history of this company.
So, how will cancer treatments develop in the coming years? Braglia says that he doesn't expect to see a cure for cancer in his lifetime. "But it will certainly develop from being an acute, deadly disease to being a chronic condition. That stage has almost been reached with prostate cancer and breast cancer. Many people live with these as they would with high blood pressure or diabetes."

Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur

At the age of 59, he's still far from thinking about retirement. "An entrepreneur never stops being an entrepreneur," he says, adding that his father is proof of this; he founded the company as a two-man operation in Chiasso in 1976 and, at the age of 86, is still Chairman of the Board of Directors today. Nevertheless, Braglia hopes that his two sons will join the company at an appropriate time and breathe new life into it with fresh ideas, just as he did in the 1980s when he started working in the company alongside his father.

Schools for 12,500 children in Africa

Braglia's tireless search for new ideas and projects continues outside the company too, and he pays special attention to charitable work. His foundation Nuovo Fiore in Africa (New Flowers in Africa) finances education projects. Thanks to Riccardo Braglia, over 12,500 African children now have the opportunity to attend school. But that's not all that excites him. Braglia collects modern art and participates in sport: He oversees the Art Foundation Fondazione d’Arte Gabriele e Anna Braglia in Lugano and is a passionate basketball player and fan. "Maybe that's where my motto 'Never give up' comes from. For me, a match lasts right up to the last second. And the last basket is the one that counts."

Credit Suisse as a reliable partner

Having trust and courage, sometimes taking a risk, and fighting for your goals right till the end: These are the things he also expects from his partners, for example from Credit Suisse. "A bank must be prepared to believe in the investment and the investing company and support it when necessary," Riccardo Braglia stresses. He greatly appreciates the fact that he has always been able to count on Credit Suisse over the past few decades in this regard, and Credit Suisse has proved on several occasions that it was able to react quickly despite its size, he says. For a head of a family firm like him, who is used to quick decision-making processes, this makes a bank stand out. "It meant that we achieved a lot in the past that would not have been possible on our own."
But, for him, the most important thing of all is the good interpersonal relationships with his advisors, Braglia stresses. "In the end, that's what everything depends on. It's always people that make the difference."