Smart algorithms against empty pharmacy shelves

Judith Hillen

Startup Stories

As a treatment for the current pandemic coronavirus, the American pharmaceutical company Abbvie plans to test the drug combination lopinavir/ritonavir, which is normally used against HIV infection. If the tests are successful, a large quantity of these drugs would be required in a very short time. However, the manufacturers, most of whom are based in Asia, cannot keep up with production due to the current situation, which could lead to supply bottlenecks. And this is exactly where the founders of the QYOBO platform want to find a remedy. Their Big Data solution provides an overview of market information on thousands of active ingredients and chemicals and helps pharmaceutical companies use this data to accelerate their purchasing and sales processes and make better decisions. In an interview with 5-HT, Dr. Markus Felgenhauer, one of the founders and CEO of the Munich-based startup, explains how QYOBO works and the advantages of using it.

QYOBO (from left to right) Julian Ruß, Markus Felgenhauer, Eric Parzinger

How does QYOBO make work in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry easier?

We create transparency and efficiency in these industries by automatically linking market information scattered around the world to provide prices, volumes and market trends. One example is the market for ibuprofen: Here, around 35 to 40,000 tons are consumed worldwide each year, but in recent years it has been difficult to estimate how delivery availability and thus prices will develop. For example, the global average price for ibuprofen has risen by a good 50 percent from 14 USD/kg in April 2018 to 21 USD/kg in April 2019. Currently, the price is already back at 16 USD/kg. This naturally plays an enormous role for all market participants, from the suppliers of the active ingredients to the purchasing pharmaceutical companies - and not only in times of crisis.

What information can be viewed on your platform?

We offer stock market-like transparency in the active ingredient and chemicals market - how have prices developed? What regional differences are there in supply and demand worldwide? Which suppliers and buyers are active in the respective markets? Our platform offers up-to-date answers to all these questions that suppliers and buyers ask themselves every day in this global market.

What makes QYOBO's solution better than previous methods of information retrieval?

Due to the strong regulatory conditions, very extensive information about the pharmaceutical and chemical industry is available. The challenge, however, is that the information is scattered in various databases and is available in very different formats, taxonomies or languages. In order to gain meaningful insights from this, days of research and analysis in numerous Excel spreadsheets are currently required.

For example, approvals for the manufacture of active ingredients play a major role. These are granted by various regulatory authorities such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the EU, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA or the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PDMA) in Japan. The challenge is to link and constantly update the data, as far-reaching decisions are made based on it. QYOBO has developed smart algorithms for this purpose.

What advantage does QYOBO bring to users?

The entire effort for data preparation is eliminated, and due to the better factual situation it is possible to make significantly more sustainable decisions in a fraction of the time. What is particularly important to us: We not only provide market information, but also link this to the workflow of the buyer or supplier. For example, we not only display the prices for a specific chemical or active ingredient, but also provide the opportunity to benchmark our own prices and to contact suitable trading partners. Finally, QYOBO helps its customers to filter the most relevant, directly actionable market insights from the wealth of market information and to take the next steps based on these insights. 

How is QYOBO financed?

Last year QYOBO was awarded an EXIST scholarship from the BMWi and other prizes. In addition, we beat more than 100 competitors worldwide in BASF's start-up competition, which resulted in an exciting pilot project. We offer access to our platform in a software-as-a-service model. Companies can purchase an annual license that gives them unlimited access to our platform. It is important to us to emphasize that the license is not limited to individual users, but is always available to all employees of a company. In this way, we want to help strengthen collaboration at a central information source and eliminate repetitive, manual workflows, for example in Excel or PowerPoint.

How was QYOBO founded?

My co-founders Julian Ruß, Eric Parzinger and I founded QYOBO last year. As a former management consultant at McKinsey, I have experienced at first hand the challenges of the industry at many pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Fortunately I was able to inspire Julian and Eric to find a solution together. Both are passionate and very experienced developers and are responsible for data preparation and further development of the platform. For my part, I am dedicated to strategic and business issues.

What is the current status of developments and what are the next steps for QYOBO?

Last year, we already carried out pilot projects with world market leaders, including BASF and well-known European generic companies, and were represented at the world's largest pharmaceutical trade fair CPhI in Frankfurt. This has resulted in many exciting new business relationships beyond Europe, for example with suppliers in China and India. Currently, of course, the COVID 19 crisis is dominating our operations, and we are helping some of our partners to increase the reliability of their supply chains in order to counteract a further shortage of medicines.

In May 2019, as part of our X-Linker program, you were a guest at a networking event where startups could network with corporations. Did this result in anything for you?

This has really paid off for us: We have come into contact with a big pharmaceutical company with whom we are currently talking about a cooperation. All in all, this event was a good opportunity for the exchange between start-ups and corporates.

What is your vision for QYOBO?

We hope that our customers will be able to focus much more on exciting operational and strategic issues by replacing much of the manual work with intelligent software. Today, many analyses are not yet possible because data is available but cannot be used due to the enormous effort involved. By making this information accessible, we want to help make the global supply of pharmaceuticals and chemical products more efficient, safer and more reliable.

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