Fingerpaint is filling out its biopharma offering by acquiring market-access and commercialization advisory firm 1798 Consultants, the indie agency is expected to announce Monday. Terms have not been disclosed.

With the acquisition, La Jolla, Calif.-based 1798 becomes Fingerpaint’s fifth office and its second on the West Coast. All leadership will be retained, and the consultancy will be rebranded as 1798, a Fingerpaint company. The firm’s founder, Roshawn Blunt, will report to Ed Mitzen, founder of Fingerpaint.

“We’ve started to do more rare disease, high-science and genetic therapy work where the market-access portion is more weighted than in a traditional pharma launch, and it became critical for us to add this as a service to clients,” said Mitzen. “1798 gives us a true, in-house market-access offering. We’ll be looking to integrate services across both organizations.”

Being part of the larger agency, said Blunt, will allow 1798 “to bring a creative side to our customers,” and everything that entails: digital, media, advertising and branding. “That’s where our side of the world is moving.”

1798 generated revenue of $11 million last year, $1 million more than in 2018, while Fingerpaint’s revenue rose to $51.4 million in 2019, according to Mitzen, from an MM&M-reported $44.9 million the year prior. With $15 million in projected 2020 billings, 1798 is expected to raise Fingerpaint’s 2020 turnover to a combined range of between $80 million to $85 million. Its 60 employees bring total agency head count to 350.

Helping clients, specialty brands in particular, to navigate the complexities of the reimbursement landscape to achieve the broadest possible coverage at the best possible price is what Blunt considers 1798’s sweetspot. 

“A lot of the individuals here came from the pharma industry or payers, and we’ve spent a lot of time working with high-cost specialty products,” said Blunt, herself a Princeton grad and an alumnus of Boston Consulting Group who went on to serve in a variety of market-access roles for Amgen and Johnson & Johnson before returning to outside consulting. 

“Increasingly in this environment, payers are a critical stakeholder,” she said. Whether from the standpoint of the pharma or investment community, “we are diving in and understanding what a payer may do.”

1798’s clients include not only pharma, medical devices and diagnostics, but also private equity and venture capital, as those kinds of entities seek a better understanding of what their investments can merit in the marketplace. Mitzen declined to name 1798’s client list but said they include large and midsize biopharma companies across a spectrum of virtually every therapeutic area and geography, with very few overlaps to Fingerpaint’s existing roster.

Having 1798 in-house allows Fingerpaint to offer life sciences clients healthcare consulting services such as patient and provider access, financial impact analysis and analytics, competitive intelligence, pull-through solutions, account leader support materials and training materials, according to a press release.

Mitzen said Fingerpaint had been looking to add a market-access function for some time but started evaluating companies in earnest two or three years ago. The agency invited 1798 in for advice on certain pitches and was impressed with its work quality, client relationships and ability to scale, “which is not something we saw commonly,” he said, adding that there have been “a lot of meetings and dinners to get to know one another and what we both want out of this, and to make sure culturally [the union] is a good fit.”

Blunt, for her part, said the prospect of being able to develop services from end to end, without outsourcing, “was very appealing.” She was also attracted by Fingerpaint’s indie status, people-first culture and commitment to philanthropic causes.

The acquisition marks Fingerpaint’s first since its 2014 purchase of Olson Communications, and the Southern California shop brings to five the number of FP offices, behind its Cedar Knolls, NJ, location, opened in 2018, along with Conshohocken, PA; Saratoga, NY; and Phoenix, AZ. 

No other acquisitions are planned in the short term, Mitzen said. “All of our offices have been growing organically pretty nicely… We want to be very methodical in companies that we add and not just buy things for the sake of growing or of increasing revenue. It’s possible you’ll see us doing more strategic moves, but it won’t be rapid fire like you see with some others.”

A new website and corporate branding for 1798 were set to go live today. The consultancy’s name derives from the year in which the country’s first system of health insurance was created. The predecessor to what is now known as the Department of Health and Human Services was created in July 1798 by an act of Congress.