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John Murad isn’t Swedish, but maybe that’s what makes him such a good spokesperson for the Scandinavian culture of the company he’s now leading in North America.
“I’ve had a connection with Sweden ever since I was a kid,” Mr. Murad, vice president and general manager of North America at Devyser, told Global Atlanta.
A longtime operator in the diagnostics space for major firms like Veracyte and Abbott, Mr. Murad is helping Devyser make unprecedented investments in the U.S. that the company believes will strengthen its position in what could become its largest market.
At the end of 2022, about 90 percent of Devyser’s sales came from Europe, with 70 percent in testing for hereditary diseases, 20 percent in oncology and 10 in post-transplant followup, according to its annual report.
The Swedish firm in June opened its first lab anywhere in the world in Roswell, where it will process a variety of genetic tests that will help health care providers treat illnesses and disorders more quickly and precisely.
The lab has been certified by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, or CLIA, a federal quality program managed by the FDA.
So far, Mr. Murad says Devyser’s work culture matches up nicely with what he expected after years of being tangentially connected to the country.
Mr. Murad’s dad was fluent in Swedish. A migrant from Jordan, he spent 10 years working there as a machinist as a young man. Mr. Murad himself never traveled there as a child, but he recalls his dad speaking Swedish on the phone and welcoming guests from there, including the family that had host his father when he arrived on a work-study program for global engineering company Sandvik.
Last year, when Mr. Murad went to Sweden for the first time to train with Devyser, he also met up with his dad’s host family.
“I finally got to see them for the first time in their home in December in Stockholm,” he said.
Beyond hospitality, he also found a culture that “exudes health” in the way that employee well-being is woven into societal norms and corporate practices.
“Their work-life balance is tremendous,” he said. “They take so much time to themselves — you’re talking weeks upon end to really focus on themselves, their family, their health care.”
Mr. Murad says he’s been trying to weave that culture into the new Roswell operation, complementing the large canvases with cityscapes of Stockholm hanging on the office walls. The headquarters in Sweden has been supportive, he says, given the long-term strategic focus on the U.S. market.
Founded in 2004 with sales in 50 countries including large markets like Italy and Japan, Devyser is approaching the U.S. market with a startup mentality.
In a country where health care spending is both massive — about a sixth of GDP — and fragmented among various states and insurance companies, Devyser knows it will face challenges. But leaders also believe in the efficiencies they can bring to diagnostic labs, which are all the more essential in an age of post-COVID staffing shortages.
“This company, although growing, really resonates health care and that is what I see we can bring to the United States,” he said.
Devyser’s central advantage is early detection and prevention using genetic testing.
Like Swedish culture, Mr. Murad knows the importance of this more intimately than many. In addition to having relatives who died from heart issues, hereditary breast cancer and pancreatic cancer, he has a son who is alive today because doctors were able to detect a heart defect in the womb and perform aortic surgery soon after birth.
Having a healthy 5-year-old after that ordeal is one reason he is a “glass half full guy” when it comes to the much-maligned U.S. health care market.
“For me, I’ve seen it all. That’s why this space is so interesting,” he said.
More and more, providers are realizing that they need to invest in detection, which gives them tools to address disorders earlier and with more precise instruments, he said.
“It’s not the cost of the test — it’s what is the cost of the result, and that’s the key differentiator in diagnostics.”
He pointed to one of Devyser’s signature next-generation sequencing (NGS) blood tests for kidney transplant recipients, which looks for the presence of cell-free DNA of donors within the blood of the patient.
When that DNA starts to show up, it’s an early sign that the patient could reject the organ. With other testing methods, the detection might occur only weeks or months later when it’s too late to intervene, rendering a transplant that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars ineffective. That’s the cost of the result, as Mr. Murad would say, not to mention the effect on the life of the patient.
While its own metro Atlanta lab will enhance the company’s stated goal of ganging more direct sales rather than those taking place through distributors, Devyser has traditionally focused on helping its lab customers grow more efficient.
While it doesn’t manufacture the machines used for testing, it sells third-party machines that make setup simple for labs looking to stand up new testing capabilities. Devyser can then provide both the assays and the software that help labs analyze results. All that will continue to be part of the growth plan in North America.
“By increasing our presence in the U.S., we are laying the groundwork for long-term future growth. The establishing of a Devyser-owned clinical laboratory in the U.S. also strengthens our position even more and creates the conditions and a credible platform for expansion,” CEO Fredrik Alpsten wrote in the annual report.
In addition to the U.S., Devyser has also won key deals in Canada, including a Héma-Québec tender for its fetal RHD screening test, which was followed this May by approval from Health Canada, the country’s health regulatory body. The three-year Héma-Québec contract could be worth 16 million Swedish Kronor, or about $1.5 million, with a potential two-year extension.
Traded on the Nasdaq First North America since 2021, Devyser posted 35 percent sales growth to 126.6 million SEK, or about $11.6 million, in 2022, but lost 46 million SEK (about $4 million) during the year as it continued to invest in R&D and growth. The company was encouraged by meeting its goals of eclipsing 80 percent gross margin but wants to reach positive operating margins of 20 percent next year. The company ended 2022 with $45 million on its balance sheet.
Mr. Murad said Atlanta will be key to these plans, and that the company hopes to eventually have a distribution center along the East Coast. The city was selected thanks to its favorable time zone, its status as a core logistics hub and its availability of talent.
“The culture of Sweden is about inclusiveness, diversity, and I think that the company was looking for an area with diverse talent to bring in,” Mr. Murad told Global Atlanta.
He plans to be involved with the Scandinavian business community here in the Southeast U.S., growing the Devyser name as it enters a new phase.
The company in September launched a partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientificto promote its lab services to pharmaceutical companies. Thermo Fisher also gained exclusive rights to sell the Devyser post-transplant NGS portfolio in the U.S. and Europe under combined branding.
The lab in Atlanta has now been branded Devyser Genomic Laboratories.