In 2018, Calcium grew revenue by 35%, to $22.5 million from 2017’s sum of $22.5 million.

Say what now? Let founder and CEO Steven Michaelson explain.

“In February 2018, our largest client walked out the door,” he recalls. “That was $8 million in fee revenue that went away, just like that. Poof! Gone.”

The client’s defection prompted Calcium to make some changes. Of the 35 people working on the business — for United Therapeutics, on pulmonary arterial hypertension drug Orenitram — five were let go, while a handful of others left on their own. At the same time, it’s a testament to the company’s resilience that it stanched the bleeding as quickly as it did.

“Let’s be honest here: In a network agency, 35 people would’ve lost their jobs immediately,” Michaelson says.

After sharing the news with Calcium’s staff, Michaelson and company went back to work. “No matter how many doors slammed in our faces, we kept pounding on new ones,” he says. “There was this sense from everybody that failure was not going to be an option.”

Before long, Michaelson’s prediction came true. Calcium won Nabriva Therapeutics’ antibiotic Lefamulin in May 2018 and added its Contepo antibiotic shortly thereafter. Before the year was out, it claimed a pair of pipeline products from Bristol-Myers Squibb, a corporate assignment from NMS Labs, Ossio’s bone-regeneration product OSSIOfiber and a pipeline immuno-oncology product from Nektar Therapeutics.

By the time the calendar flipped to 2019, Calcium had replaced the lost revenue — it would’ve been a 35% growth year if the Therapeutics business hadn’t gone away, Michaelson reports — as well as the people who had departed. It finished the year with 90 people under its three roofs, just as it did 2017.

Michaelson credits the Calcium staff for doing an amazing job at playing the hand it was dealt. 

“Nobody sat around feeling sorry for themselves,” he insists.  The agency’s leaders strived to maintain a sense of normalcy amid the strain.

“We kept buying lunch for everybody every day — real lunch, not just pizza — because creative minds need creative meals,” Michaelson continues.

As for what comes next, Michaelson jokes that he’s hesitant “to make any predictions people are going to hold me to.” At the same time, he expects “considerable” growth in both revenue and head count.

While Calcium already works with its share of companies in the rare/orphan space, Michaelson hopes to add more. “There are such great stories about people who started a pharmaceutical company because their child was dealing with a rare disease, so they went on a quest to find a cure,” he says. “That’s a great thing. That’s why we’re in this industry.”

Indeed, Michaelson believes that Calcium’s creative moxie would play outside health and pharma. “We do great creative in our sleep,” he continues. “We could do it for Coca-Cola or Ford, but doing it in the pharmaceutical space — working to market and promote drugs that are making peoples’ lives better — is something that makes us incredibly proud.”