Attard & Co., which was set up in 1921, founded the Medical and Scientific and Supplies Department in 1956. In 1999, Christopher Busuttil Delbridge joined as a scientific consultant, and lost no time in changing both the pace and the direction of the department.
Seven years later, the department developed into Evolve Ltd, whose aim is to better serve the scientific industry in Malta, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In the meantime, Malta joined the European Union.
The more delicate nature of business and level of expertise required by the incoming pharma industry following EU accession necessitated a separately branded entity, Mr Busuttil Delbridge explains. Till then, Attard & Co. was mostly known for Agfa photo film and Fiorucci delicatessen. “Not a fitting match to the niche scientific and medical markets,” he quips.
The setting up of Evolve also brought about new directorships, which helped steer the course to new and better horizons. The Managing Director admits that his core targets for Evolve remain unchanged.
He strives to attract top talent to offer exceptional support to the company’s scientific and medical customers, allowing them to focus on what they do best. The team makes it a point to learn, move on, and grow from every single opportunity.
What has been added is an internationalisation dimension. Mr Busuttil Delbridge points out that Evolve is no different from its forerunner, the Medical and Scientific and Supplies Department. He insists that what exists now is a continuation of what had been started, learnt, and built upon.
Today’s operation also embraces the same ethical principles the family-owned business always stressed, he adds.
“By time, we became much more agile, experienced, and confident in our designs, installation and propositions. Our portfolio has been expanded and our work philosophy went from trader to solution provider to professional services company. Before we sold products while, nowadays, we can handle entire facilities and projects,” he asserts.
The Managing Director explains that when speaking about the scientific industry, one must, first and foremost, bear in mind that ‘scientific’ is one broad term.
In Evolve’s case, the term is used to denote anything from pharma manufacturing to academic labs, as well as any healthcare facility. In fact, the company is constantly on the lookout for complementary and additional business, and that is why Evolve succeeded in gaining a competitive advantage in the local medical cannabis industry.
Along the years, Evolve has been assisting technical entities in designing, equipping, training, and maintaining facilities. Mr Busuttil Delbridge explains that the company is always adapting its business model, depending on the type of industry it is servicing and its geography. “It is very clear that one size fits one.
We pride ourselves in being very familiar with the latest regulations of the particular industry we are serving,” he remarks. Most of the members of the team at Evolve are scientists, and scientific knowledge and expertise is at the core of the company’s operations.
When asked whether it is a feat finding the right people, especially as new niches like the medical cannabis industry emerge, Mr Busuttil Delbridge replies, “what you forgot to mention is that all the members of the team are positive people, and recruiting for character is, to us, the most important part of our updated process.”
“Yes, most have sound scientific knowledge because we put value into speaking our customers’ language. This makes it even harder to find the right person for the job. In fact, we have turned to a wide pool of people and now have five different nationalities represented at Evolve. That is, about 15 per cent of our workforce moved to Malta from overseas. I expect this ratio to grow,” he continues.
He is on record saying that legislation enacted two years ago in connection with the medical cannabis industry presented Evolve with “massive opportunities”. He points out that Malta was the first EU country to legislate on medical cannabis as a pharmaceutical.
This meant that the many companies attracted to Malta’s shores have to build or retrofit facilities for the processing and testing of this new pharmaceutical form. Evolve, he continues, quickly positioned itself as the supplier of choice as an EPCM contractor (turnkey) or for any other part of the investment, be it cleanrooms, lab equipment and supplies or even purified water loops.
The medical cannabis market worldwide was booming for over a year when, towards the end of 2019, it hit a snag due to underfunding, bad press, and delayed release of clinical trials, Mr Busuttil Delbridge notes, adding that COVID-19 did not help. Yet, he is still hopeful.
“Many opportunities still remain, and the market will flourish once more clinical trials are finalised.” We can say the Maltese market moved in parallel, he asserts.
There is no doubt that Evolve is highly specialised in the pharmacology industry and the Managing Director points out that Malta has the first fully approved EU-GMP medical cannabis packaging and testing facility, which Evolve was responsible for.
But there is more: annexed to the facility is a fully fledged testing laboratory for both analytical and microbiological testing, which Evolve also equipped and maintains.
“I am not at liberty to reveal commercially-sensitive information about this new facility but I can tell you that Evolve was responsible for the entire project, from structural alterations to all mechanical and electrical installations, cleanrooms, a security access system, air handling, fire detection, etc,” he says, adding that “it was a successful project done in record time and within budget.
We even financed the project and smoothed out the payments as well as administrative workload for the customer.”
Lessons were learnt along the way. Mr Busuttil Delbridge admits that medical cannabis markets are very hard to predict right now, therefore, any customer would not be very sure of what to invest in and how much.
This, he explains, means that upgradeability and modularity must be incorporated into the design without loading the capital outlay. The lack of clear expectations also means that, throughout the project, there are numerous changes and detailed documentation and sign offs if such changes become very important.
But Evolve has an international dimension too. The Managing Directors notes that, for the last three years, Evolve targeted SubSaharan Africa as its go-to market in terms of opportunities. Many visits have been made to the region, and turnkey projects were also secured.
Among the projects is the first EUGMP standard pharma lab in West Africa – a huge milestone for the region and a very big achievement for any company operating in Evolve’s space, he remarks. “These are exciting times to be part of our team and the vibe is palpable,” Mr Busuttil Delbridge exclaims.
This interview was first carried in the August edition of The Commercial Courier