For almost three decades, I saw annual sales charts that showed the hot spots for pharmaceutical sales. Currently more than 90% of drugs are sold in developed countries and less than 5% in underdeveloped countries. The sales charts called those underdeveloped countries “ROW”, or Rest Of World, and they, for the most part do not matter enough for big pharmaceutical companies to spend any time or resources on.
Year after year I wondered if something could be done to help those who desperately need it but might not have the resources to pay. It was a weekly walk through the “what ifs?” that sort of haunted me: What if something could be done? And most important, What if I’m the one to do it?
My answer was to launch a Chicago-based startup, OWP Pharmaceuticals, which currently offers branded generic products to help control the symptoms of epilepsy. We are a couple of years into our mission, and already we are having the kind of impact around the world that I hoped we would have.
I completed a year of coaching and set about creating a business model where pharmaceuticals were readily available to those who really need them; where profits from quality products sold in the U.S. could be sown into organizations around the world on the front lines of epilepsy and other devastating but manageable diseases; where the company and its work would go on even after the founders had passed on.
What I wanted was a business that was wedded to a foundation in such a way that they could literally never be separated. I called this ideal business structure “Social Enterprise 2.0.” After an exhaustive search, I finally found one organization doing exactly what I wanted to do: Tyndale Publishing.
I was thankful to find that model and a sherpa to walk alongside me. We launched OWP Pharmaceuticals and the ROW Foundation in late 2014. Our motto is, “One World, One Standard.” The ROW Foundation owns stock in OWP and prospers when we prosper.
As OWP got up and running in 2015, the ROW Foundation launched fundraising efforts to begin its work. OWP already pays for all the administrative costs of running the foundation, so the donors who gave to ROW knew that 100% of their gifts would go to the cause. And in its first year, the foundation raised $25,000 to give to the Armenian League Against Epilepsy (ALAE) to purchase EEG equipment for a pediatric hospital in Yerevan.
But ROW isn’t dependent on donations. OWP’s profits will provide the lion’s share of ROW’s future revenues—80% to 90% of them. The revenues will be used by ROW to help existing nonprofits and NGOs in the U.S. and around the world provide medications to patients, buy equipment for health care facilities, and fund other worthy projects related to the treatment of health care providers, and the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy.
OWP’s battles: Neuroscience disorders
OWP provides the first branded line of generic drugs for neuroscience disorders, like epilepsy, so it fills a need in the marketplace for affordable, high-quality medications. In fact, most of OWP’s first medications are priced at approximately a 90% discount to the original brand. The original brand, Keppra, typically costs patients over to $6,000 a year, while our brand, Roweepra, is much more affordable.
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world. It affects roughly 65 million people, according to the World Health Organization. The good news: it can be treated with inexpensive medications. And studies show that 70% of children and adults who are treated see their seizures controlled and can live relatively normal lives.
Patients in low and middle income countries often go undiagnosed because doctors in those countries lack the proper equipment to detect the disease. If they are diagnosed at all, they often don’t get treatment because they can’t afford it or because it’s not available. Some doctors, in fact, don’t even mention that there are some medications that could help since they know they can’t provide those medications to their patients.
Because epilepsy is so frequently undiagnosed or untreated, it’s also often misunderstood. There’s often a strong cultural stigma attached to the disease. Children can be banned from schools or from many activities. Adults are denied jobs or are underemployed. In some cases, they are even denied the right to marry. People with epilepsy try to hide their condition from others, or endure a life where they are isolated and treated as outcasts.
Already we are seeing success and healing. Lives are being impacted. Real people who need help are getting it, all while we build a profitable business here in the U.S., selling our epilepsy medication at affordable prices. Up to half of all the profits from the sales of OWP medications currently goes to the ROW foundation, and they are doing the heavy lifting around the world, finding organizations that already have the infrastructure in place to find and help heretofore untreated patients with life changing drugs.
All of this is happening at an age when many of my contemporaries have retired. For me, it feels like I am just beginning and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Think about listening to that voice inside you that says you could make your “what if” a reality and ignoring the voice that says you cannot. And don’t go about it alone. I know I couldn’t have.
So, what is your “what if”? What keeps you awake at night? What big problem or issue could you spend the rest of your life solving?
Scott Boyer is CEO of OWP Pharmaceuticals Inc., based in Naperville, Ill.