ARCHIMED’s sale of Polyplus to Sartorius Stedim earns 300x for MED I, an all-time record return for a private equity investment
ARCHIMED first bought 90 percent of Polyplus in 2016, and moved to co-lead the partnership with Warburg Pincus in 2020, after selling half of ARCHIMED’s stake for a 70x multiple on invested capital.
With the agreement to sell Strasbourg, France-based Polyplus for €2.4 billion ($2.6 billion), to listed Sartorius Stedim Biotech S.A. (DIM: EN Paris), global private equity healthcare investor ARCHIMED stands to earn more than 300 times the cost of its investment for its inaugural MED I fund, which purchased Polyplus at a value of less than €10 million in 2016. According to data from Preqin and other sources, that multiple represents an all-time record return for a private equity investment from a buyout fund. Listed Sartorius Stedim, indirectly controlled by the German family Sartorius (and its foundation), is expected to close on the purchase in Q3 2023, following customary regulatory approvals.
ARCHIMED’s equal partner in Polyplus is private equity investor Warburg Pincus, which purchased half of ARCHIMED’s stake in 2020, allowing MED I to deliver a 70 times multiple on invested capital (MOIC) on this first transaction. The other half of ARCHIMED’s stake was split between MED I, which kept part of its original investment, successor fund MED II and continuation vehicle PolyMED (capitalized at €242 million, including uncalled capital for any bolt-on Polyplus acquisitions). Only existing ARCHIMED investors could invest in PolyMED, which was nonetheless 2.5 times oversubscribed. “That demonstrated investors’ massive trust in us, despite the already substantial multiple over initial investment cost,” says ARCHIMED Chairman Denis Ribon.
MED II and PolyMED will earn more than 4.5 times MOIC on the sale to Sartorius Stedim, while MED I will realize more than 300 times MOIC on its remaining Polyplus shares. In the seven years since ARCHIMED acquired Polyplus, the latter’s revenues have increased to more than €75 million from less than €5 million and earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization have risen 130-fold in total (see metrics in box below).
Founded in 2001 as a spin-off from the University of Strasbourg, Polyplus – since partnering with ARCHIMED – has moved from a cutting-edge specialist in the cellular delivery of DNA and RNA, with a clientele concentrated in academia, to a broad-based upstream Bioprocessing player and innovative commercial provider, selling to Cell & Gene Therapy (CGT) drug makers. CGT is particularly fast growing since it has the potential to cure a multitude of life-threatening conditions.
“Given the operational experience and science backgrounds of most of the ARCHIMED team, they understood our potential and what it would take to realize it when many others didn’t,” says Gabriel Festoc, President of Polyplus. “Back in 2016, we needed a partner who understood the intricacies of CGT if we were going to stay in pole position and keep developing. We were facing a ‘now or never moment’ and ARCHIMED came through.” Polyplus founders, management and a wide number of employees retained a 10 percent stake in Polyplus following ARCHIMED’s initial investment with most retaining ownership through the recent sale announcement to Sartorius Stedim.
ARCHIMED and Polyplus set about accelerating research, developing new products, increasingly direct sales, expanding to the US, the world’s most advanced CGT market, and dramatically boosting production in line with complex and costly Good Manufacturing Practices. GMP-compliant products and procedures meet or exceed the highest regulatory standards in the world and as such are a prerequisite for broad commercialization.
Polyplus’ increasingly unrivaled position as the leader of CGT delivery technology and the company’s continuing – and wholly exceptional – growth potential were validated in 2020 when Warburg Pincus invested. “When we initially invested in Polyplus, we realized that their products were already the most scalable and cost-efficient delivery systems in cell and gene therapy and that the industry was on the edge of transformational change with regulatory approvals about to come through for products that were now clearly safe for human use,” says ARCHIMED Partner Loïc Kubitza. “By 2020 this had become reality, with the path clearly set for more amazing growth. Given our level of confidence in Polyplus’ future, we felt utterly compelled to reinvest.”
In 2020, eager to remain solely focused on ambitious growth and development goals without the distraction of integrating into a larger organization in a still rapidly evolving CGT industry, Polyplus was also keen to remain independent. Allied with Warburg Pincus, the partners made acquisitions in adjacent products and increased Polyplus’ control over its supply chain, further growing sales, profits and margins – giving the company the scale it would need to achieve major synergies as part of a larger life sciences group.
“In the last three years, we’ve given Polyplus crucial heft as a category leader,” says Polyplus CEO Mario Philips. “We can add more value now to a larger group than was possible at any other point in our history.” Philips joined Polyplus as CEO in 2020, after being an Operating Partner at ARCHIMED and following decades of experience in the Bioprocessing space.
Polyplus is the latest in a string of high-multiple ARCHIMED exits over the past 15 months, all made to strategic buyers. The lowest returning of the six exits ARCHIMED has made over this time period generated a return of 3 times the value of invested capital, while the others – apart from Polyplus – were in a range of between 4x and 6x MOIC.
The fully-invested, small cap-focused MED I – ARCHIMED’s original buyer for Polyplus – is ranked the best performing buyout fund on a global level for its 2014 vintage year according to Preqin data, returning some 7 times invested capital. Even without Polyplus, MED I would easily qualify as a top quartile performer, with its six other investments returning a combined 3 times invested capital. ARCHIMED’s next two funds, small cap-focused MED II (raised €315 million in 2018) and mid cap-focused MED Platform I (raised €1.5 billion in 2019), are both top decile performers.
ARCHIMED is currently investing small cap-focused MED III (raised €650 million in 2021) and mid cap-focused MED Platform II (launched in 2022). MED Platform II is currently the largest healthcare private equity fund ever raised, with over €3.0 billion committed to date, according to data from Preqin. MED Platform II has already invested in Natus Medical (through a take-private deal), a global leader in Neuro-diagnostics, and in Plasmid Factory, a developer of exceptionally high-grade plasmids (an efficient means to modify genes and cells to combat maladies).
“In 2020, Polyplus’ team was keen to keep the company independent a few more years, In 2023, the same team was in favour of joining a large group since they felt strong and large enough at all levels. Sartorius was their preferred choice. We always do our best to support teams’ preferred options and are glad that we could navigate accordingly. The Polyplus-ARCHIMED story is a case study in terms of partnership.”
Denis RIBON, ARCHIMED Chairman and Managing Partner