AMRITA TEJASVI. (2011). ‘Our new products will fight serious air borne diseases’, BioTalk, Feb.
From procurement to manufacturing, Mr Lloyd Soong, CEO, Pasture Group, has drawn attention of global healthcare experts for a very common but an absolutely critical product range — masks. Pasture has been a major supplier of HiNi masks in countries like Singapore, India and the US.In conversation with BioSpectrum, Mr Soong shares the challenges he faced while reaching out to target customers.
How has your journey been as a mask manufacturer?
Mr Soong: When the company was started 15 years ago, Pasture was primarily into procurement and distribution. In 2003, when SARS broke out in Asia, Pasture was one of the prime companies in this region to procure flu vaccines for the government hospitals. During my frequent visit to hospitals in that period, I observed certain loopholes and drawbacks in the masks that people were using and the difficulty they faced in managing them. This gave me the push to enter into the business of making masks that serves the purpose of providing optimum protection from virus. The idea of starting the company came from my own personal experience, when I realized that there are too many difficulties in handling a simple mask and non-protection can have a severe outbreak.
How do you classify masks as a critical technology that need attention from public as well as health care experts?
Mr Soong: Different countries need to be aware of the diseases borne in air that could create immense threat and loss of human life. By now, we have already seen world wide spread of flu and the consequent chaos. It is better for the countries to take precautionary measure that protects them from such outbreaks. We are the makers of first-in-the-world mask tested against virulent H5N1 virus (Avian Influenza), Anthrax-surrogate, Tuberculosis and other airborne micro-organisms with advanced technology.
What made you use nanotechnology in mask manufacturing?
Mr Soong: I have got exposure to nanotechnology. During the SARS outbreak, I integrated and redesigned a simple looking mask into a nanotechnology-embedded masks. This gave us a mileage far ahead in the industry. Virus, though it cannot be seen, can be very dangerous. The main purpose of a mask is not only to protect the wearer from virus but curb its spread around us.
We are the first company to manufacture anti-microbial masks using nanotechnology. We are in the process of getting approval from FDA.
Masks are critical in managing pandemics, controlling air-borne diseases and limiting an outbreak. Making masks that serve the purpose is technology intensive.
During the spread of SARS, I realized the importance that medical industry should accord to masks in controlling the spread of disease and I brought innovation by embedding nanotechnology in it. In air-borne disease, virus cannot be seen and if due precaution is not given the same mask can lead to spreading it.
Did the uniqueness of your product help you get faster approval from the FDA?
Mr Soong: It is true that our product was unique, but getting approval from the FDA is not an easy task. There was no guideline at the FDA for mask approval. It took us a long time to convince FDA about the uniqueness of products. We also achieved NIOSH N95 certification for the filtration and safety features of masks and the structure and material used for contour. High quality and unique features together play a key role in defining the superiority of products.
What measures should a company take for easing out the approval process?
Mr Soong: Before approaching the FDA for approval, one should have thorough knowledge of the product and guidelines set by FDA. The most challenging part for us was convincing the agency for approving a product for which they didn’t have set guidelines.
What are your manufacturing strengths?
Mr Soong: We have a manufacturing facility in Taiwan that caters to the mask demand from across the world. We are planning to set up a manufacturing unit in United States and Singapore. According to regulation, US needs around five billion masks in stock to meet the demand during an outbreak. Since, we are seeking a strong growth in western market, it is more appropriate to start a manufacturing unit there itself.
How challenging has it been for you to compete with giants like 3M?
Mr Soong: Competing with 3M helped us build our confidence. 3M is big and has a vast range of products, whereas we have created a niche in the market. We specialize in particular products and hence operate very closely with the market demand. I believe, we have got a better understanding of the market.
What is your market reach?
Mr Soong: We are present in countries such as Japan, India, Middle East, Asia and the US. Due to the different approval processes in different countries, we have managed to create a good market position. We are not brand specific but our products are reaching consumers efficiently.
What is the next growth stage for Pasture Group?
Mr Soong: We will be working closely with the medical device groups. Companies from US, Europe and Japan have already shown interest in associating with us. To reach out to different countries, one needs to meet the diverse regulations of each region. Soon, Pasture will be coming up with more products that provide security from serious air borne diseases.