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VIDEO: Five Easy Questions Ep 6 – MicroBix BioSystems (MBX.T) CEO, Cameron L. Groome talks antigens, QAPs and VTMs

02/16/2021

MicroBix Biosystems (MBX.T) develops, manufactures and markets biological products or technologies to customers in North America and around the world. The company is a leading provider of native “antigens” used in infectious disease tests, it also markets quality assurance products which saw a 40% sales increase in Fiscal 2020, and lastly, it manufactures Viral Transport Medium (VTM) which through a grant with the Government of Ontario is expected to scale production to 60,000 vials per day.

A critical supplier to over 100 global manufacturers of infectious disease tests, MicroBix recently signed a strategic agreement with Copan Italia S.p.A, the global leader in specimen-collection devices, to open its market even further. With the infectious disease testing expected to increase in a post-covid world, MicroBix is targeting stabilized antigen sales for 2021 as well as expanding its QAP pipeline. If none of that made sense, you’re in the right place.

Hi, I’m Maddy Grace and this is Five Easy Questions where we break down the market for new investors. Today I’m speaking with Cameron Groome, president, CEO and director of MicroBix to get a better understanding of the company, the industry and the science behind it. Tune in!

(Transcription below)

Maddy Grace

All right, MicroBix Biosystems develops, manufactures and markets, biological products or technologies to customers in North America and around the world. The company is a leading provider of native antigens used in infectious disease tests. It also markets quality assurance products, which saw a 40 percent sales increase in fiscal 2020. And lastly, it manufactures Viral Transport Medium (VTM), which, through a grant with the government of Ontario, is expected to scale production to sixty thousand miles per day. With the infectious disease testing expected to increase in a post-covid world, MicroBix is targeting stabilized antigen sales for 2021, as well as expanding its QAP pipeline. If none of that made any sense to you, you are in the right place. Hi, I’m Maddy Grace. This is Five Easy Questions where we break down the market for new investors. Today, I’m speaking with Cameron Groome, president, CEO and director of MicroBix, to get a better understanding of the company, industry and science behind it. Thank you so much for joining us today, Cameron.

 

Cameron L. Groome

You’re most welcome, Maddy. Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.

 

Maddy Grace

All right. I’m going to get right into it. First question, definition time. What are antigens, QAPs and VTMs?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Well, we’ll we’ll do that very quickly. So antigens are the complement to an antibody. So when you often see the Y-shaped antibody that binds to something, what binds to, is in antigen. And we supply in our context inactivated and highly purified bacteria and viruses to drive the tests, the biology at the heart of the test, the intel inside, to run the tests of over one hundred different international diagnostics companies. So if you want to look at whether you’ve been exposed to a virus or bacteria or whether you have immunity to a virus or bacteria, that’s when you need the antigen to be at the heart of that test to drive it. We supply those critical ingredients for a whole catalogue of different diagnostic tests. Then quality assessment products. This is what we call QAPs, Q-A-Ps for short. And these are the controls that are effectively a mimic of a sample from an infected patient that looks to a test exactly like a patient sample. But the difference is, it isn’t infectious. It’s stable and it’s reliable. So you can see behind me in the screen, this is one of our products that’s a control for covid molecular tests, for PCR tests for covid. And it’s actually formatted on to the same nasal pharyngeal swab that you’d collect the sample on. So if you’re wanting to know, hey, I’m running one hundred tests in my lab today, how do I know they’re right? You know, how do I know a positive is a positive and a negative is really a negative. Well, you need a control. And so that’s what we provide. We provide that. We provide them on swabs. We provide little liquid samples in little vials like this. That to the test looks exactly like a patient positive sample or exactly like a patient negative sample. And we make those to ensure that you can have confidence that all the tests run through the day are accurate. Otherwise, how do you know?

 

Maddy Grace

Right.

 

Cameron L. Groome

And the third product we’re making very importantly, and this is the one you alluded to, that the province of Ontario has asked us to make, is viral transport medium. This is the liquid vial of stuff that a swab from somebody’s nose or throat, gets snapped off and put in one of these vials to ensure that the virus is still intact and can be tested for by the time it’s tested at the clinical lab hours or days later. And this has been a product that’s been in critically short supply all over the world. Nobody, to our knowledge, was making in Canada and our expertise in growing all these organisms and manipulating and purify them, that we know how to make very complex media. So we started producing these, producing this to have a secure domestic supply of high quality product rather than having to rely on, oh, wait a minute, China is not releasing product out of its production because they’ve got a problem at home now. Or the supply from India maybe wasn’t quite what we thought it was going to be, and it isn’t working on the test format, so we really…Everybody is very conscious that we need these domestic supplies, just like the conversation is going on around the need for domestic supply of vaccines. We need a domestic supply of these critical testing materials. So we’re making all this crazy mad scientist stuff, helping public health in Canada and internationally to help manage the pandemic.

 

Maddy Grace

Oh, I am so impressed. That was so articulate. I was expecting to ask you so many questions, and be like, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I actually I understood all of that. That’s amazing. OK, next question. How long does it take to bring a QAP to the market?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Well the QAP products we’ve got to create and I’ll– just this is one of our– oh, I got the background. But this is one of our prototypes. So if we’re looking at creating one of our QAP products, we have to make sure that that product is going to work on every test on the market. And that’s something that we do. We’re very careful to do that. We want to make sure if we’re offering QAPs for molecular tests, for example, we don’t just want it to work on an Abbott test. We want to be able to go down the whole alphabet of test companies. So no matter what test you’re running in your lab, we want to make sure that MicroBix control is going to work and that presents a whole other level of help to the lab that they don’t say, oh, I need one control for every different instrument I’m running in. For example, Ontario, last time I spoke with them about this, they were running 18 different molecular testing systems. So you can imagine the nightmare if you needed 18 different controls or you didn’t have any controls at all.

 

Maddy Grace

Yeah.

 

Cameron L. Groome

We create controls that work on everything. And that’s a huge skill that we’ve developed over the years. So when we saw, and now to get back to your question, we saw covid coming along and we said, I don’t know WHO’s World Health is saying this isn’t a pandemic, but it kind of looks like it is.

 

Maddy Grace

Right

 

Cameron L. Groome

Started late January, actually, we started working to create a covid molecular test control. And by the end of March, we had validated that internally and with arms-length external partners and we were able to announce a proof of concept. We got that available in Canada in late April. In the US in May and Europe in June. And yeah, so we’ve been working pretty hard this year and that’s now in use in over 20 different countries. Now we have registered the product for use in the EU with their CE mark program, with the US FDA, with Health Canada under a medical devices establishment license and even with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration or TGA. So this is what we’ve done. We’ve created now as well, controls for the rapid antigen tests for covid. We have controls for flu A, flu B virus, RSV, human papilloma virus, molecular testing for the virus that causes cervical cancer, as well as a number of others, and a growing list of tests that we can support to make sure they’re accurate. So that’s that’s what we do. And where we want to get to is getting a new product like this out every couple of months with using our internal expertise. And that’s a big, big lift. So a lot of international diagnostics companies are now saying, you know what, we’re great with microfluidics and software and assays. This controls business. You guys got this. We’re going to work with you.

 

Maddy Grace

Oh, cool. Wow, that is very neat. And this is a this is a big scale.

 

Cameron L. Groome

Well, we’re moving from being a little known Canadian company, doing ingredients to a company providing innovative proprietary and branded products all over the world. So it’s a transformative time for us. And we’re delighted to be able to help public health in Ontario, across Canada and internationally.

 

Maddy Grace

Right. All right, next question. Why will infectious disease testing increase after the introduction of covid vaccines?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Great question, Maddy. Diagnostic testing is is running neck and neck with vaccines as the best value for dollar in health care. The biggest thing in treating a disease is, what’s the problem? Give me an accurate diagnosis. Tell me what’s wrong with me. Then we can start to intervene and treat it and fix things. And historically, we’ve been developing over the past 20-odd years very sophisticated testing capability that we can tell a lot more than we ever could before about, particularly about infectious diseases. If you’ve got an infection, why aren’t we saying exactly what bacteria it is? Exactly what antibiotic is going to work against it, rather than guessing? And these sorts of tests have been available. But the argument was, yeah, it’s a great value, but we don’t have the test capacity to do these tests. We know it would save money for the system, but we don’t have the test capacity. Now we built out massive increases in molecular and other testing capacity for covid. What are we going to do after covid? Are we going to throw all that stuff in the garbage bin now that we’ve invested the capital in the capacity or how to use it intelligently? And I’m hopeful that the governments and health authorities are going to say, you know what, now we’ve got this capacity, let’s use it. And sophisticated tests, you absolutely need the controls to ensure their accuracy. And we’ve created intellectual property and expertise to be able to create the controls to ensure the accuracy of these far more advanced tests. So I’m really optimistic post-covid, we’re going to have some benefits of better health care from this better testing and that our company will be able to support that with an increasing breadth of product offering to support these new tests.

 

Maddy Grace

All right, what are the biggest criteria in picking a new QAP product to develop?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Obviously as business people and as responsible citizens, we’re looking at where is it going to help, you know, where is there real value added to the health system or the kind of QAPs that we develop? The second thing we look at is, are we able to do something really at the forefront where it’s going to be impactful on health care as well? And do we have the capability to deliver it and the partners to deliver it? And I’ll give you a great example. There’s an infection called Mgen or mycoplasma genitalium, and it’s a sexually transmitted infection. And you probably never heard of it.

 

Maddy Grace

No

 

Cameron L. Groome

Maybe a fifth of adults carry Mgen. And it is a big cause of urinary and reproductive tract inflammation. It causes infertility, it causes miscarriages. And it’s not widely tested for even though about one in five people carries this and it’s treatable with antibiotics. Why isn’t it tested for? Well, nobody had controls. And if you can ensure the accuracy of the test, you can’t be accredited to do the testing. If you can’t be accredited to do the testing, no government’s going to pay for it. So nobody or very few people were getting tested for Mgen. And we’ve been able to create register a very accurate control for Mgen. And so the industry is looking at this saying, great, now we can start testing and we can start. And it’s this kind of opportunity that we look for to identify and it may not be obvious, but we can identify this, create the products to help the industry help our health. And that’s one of the things that excites us and gets us up in the morning.

 

Maddy Grace

That’s amazing. My last question, what are your ESG guidelines?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Well, we’ve got some pretty unique ones and we grow over 50 different infectious organisms in our labs. So the biggest ESG thing for us is the safety of our staff, the safety of the community, and we don’t grow anything in our labs that’s going to melt your face off like an Indiana Jones Nazi or anything like that. But it might make you uncomfortable. So the first thing is that everybody stay safe at our facility and nothing leaves there alive. So for that, we have biosafety level qualifications in our laboratories. We have a joint health and safety committee that’s incredibly diligent, different ISO standards, and we operate under the Pathogens and Toxins Act of Health Canada to make sure everybody is safe and everything stays well. And then we’ve got, of course, many scientists, qualified personnel with advanced degrees. So we have an incredible multinational, multi-ethnic, multi-gender team. It’s just wonderful that we have everybody working together here in that way. And we’re also, of course, very conscious to respect things like the Ontario Disabilities Act, to make sure that wherever possible we’re giving people an exciting, motivating, a great place to work. And our sense of humor might not be entirely politically correct all the time, but what we we make sure everybody’s having fun in a welcoming and inclusive environment.

 

Maddy Grace

That’s amazing. OK, now I just have a quick rapid fire round for you,

 

Cameron L. Groome

OK.

 

Maddy Grace

Quick questions. Are you ready?

 

Cameron L. Groome

I am.

 

Maddy Grace

OK, tea or coffee?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Coffee.

 

Maddy Grace

What is the first thing you do in the morning?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Coffee.

 

Maddy Grace

What is your favorite sport to watch?

 

Cameron L. Groome

I would say sailing, yacht racing and sailing. I sailed as a kid and it just love it.

 

Maddy Grace

What is your favorite sport to play?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Not a huge team sport guy, but I love scuba diving, I love skiing or I think activities where I’m challenging myself.

 

Maddy Grace

These are good these are unique answers, I’ve never gotten any of those before. Your favorite book?

 

Cameron L. Groome

I would say a rather quirky novel called “Soon I Will Be Invincible.” It goes with the mad scientist vibe

 

Maddy Grace

There you go, it fits the whole persona. Cat or dog?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Dog, dog. I’m dogless at the moment. But I had the most wonderful dog in the world for 15 years and miss her dearly.

 

Maddy Grace

Value investor or a day trader?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Value investor, definitely.

 

Maddy Grace

A suit and tie or a casual?

 

Cameron L. Groome

Gee, let me think. I had  some video presentation with shareholders, so normally my druthers would probably be t-shirt, shorts and flip flops somewhere warm. But I can do either.

 

Maddy Grace

There you go. If you had a thousand dollars to invest, what company would it be? Not your own.

 

Cameron L. Groome

Right now I invest in a private company I’m on the board of called Naegis in Vancouver. They’re doing some wonderful work on making ocular therapies for retinal and problems at the back of the eye, where you can just put an eye drop on and it moves right to where it’s needed. And I think it’s a huge innovation and a private company that needs additional funding to move that forward. That would be where I’d put.

 

Maddy Grace

Very cool. What was the last movie you watched?

 

Cameron L. Groome

I watched RED, the retired, extremely dangerous sort of action comedy last night. Loved it. Laughed quite hard.

 

Maddy Grace

Oh, my goodness. I haven’t seen it, but I can see my co-worker right now on Zoom, like killing himself laughing. He’s clearly watched it and I think enjoyed it. He’s giving me a thumbs up. OK, and then very, very last question. Where do you think covid vaccinations will be at in terms of progress by the end of the year?

 

Cameron L. Groome

I’m hoping we’ll be on our way to herd immunity. The mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are really– have moved…It’s extraordinary to move from a concept of vaccination to very effective products at an incredible speed and safety. So those are excellent. And then there’s the AstraZeneca vaccine as well on its way. So I’m hoping between those three and possibly others, we can get well on our way to herd immunity. And some of our work, I’m hoping, will help with the allocation of vaccines to direct them where they’re most needed as well.

 

Maddy Grace

Oh, that is great. That’s all the time we have today. Thank you so much for joining us.

 

Cameron L. Groome

Thank you for having me, a real pleasure.

 

Maddy Grace

And hopefully we get to talk to you in the future.

 

Cameron L. Groome

Look forward to it. And thank you for the opportunity to present to your viewers.

 

Maddy Grace

Of course, thank you so much. Have a good rest of your day!

 

Cameron L. Groome

OK, you too.

 

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