From a small pharmaceutical start-up, Pasture Group CEO Lloyd Soong, 59, has brought his company to the global stage with their medical-grade specialty masks.
This Covid-19 pandemic alone has seen them supplying more than 100 million surgical masks and N95 respirators globally.
What’s even more impressive is that during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this local company was one of two companies in the entire world with N95 respirators cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended for use by the general public, the other being 3M.
The ability to supply more than 100 million masks and respirators globally, and the company’s dedication to contribute to the community by donating masks to hospitals, nursing homes and charitable organisations in such times of need are what Lloyd calls his “biggest achievement till date”.
Lloyd chats with AsiaOne about his 25-year entrepreneurial journey and some tips and lessons he has learned till date.
Tell us a bit about how you got to your current position.
Lloyd: I was trained in basic immunology and organ transplant at the University of Texas Medical School. I then graduated from the University of Hull with an MBA in strategic marketing sponsored by Novartis Singapore (then named Sandoz), where I was head of local operations, and now the CEO of Pasture Group.
Why did you decide to set up your own business?
Lloyd: I saw a gap for medium-size pharmaceutical companies to work with more focused specialty and science-based distribution companies rather than sales-based distribution companies, so that was how Pasture Group came about in 1996.
When would you say was your most difficult period?
Lloyd: When I had to come down from the ‘high horse’ [of being the country head of an MNC] to start from scratch.
What were some of the obstacles faced?
Lloyd: Mostly regulatory requirements and biases as we were too small a company as compared to the bigger players in the industry.
While Pasture Group was established in 1996, the Pasture Mask and Respirator R&D division only started in 2005, after the 2003 SARS epidemic. How did that come about?
Lloyd: Pasture was one of the prime companies acting as an exclusive distributor of Chiron’s vaccines, and later Novartis’ vaccines after it acquired the former in 2006, to supply flu vaccines to public hospitals during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. Masks were mandatory, especially so when we had to work in hospitals. I was inspired to develop our own masks as I found that the masks worn when visiting the hospitals were uncomfortable and posed difficulties when breathing.
I was able to utilise and incorporate my basic immunology knowledge with my nanotechnology knowledge and put them to good use into developing a mask that not just filters well, but also inactivates or kill microbes (viruses and bacteria) upon contact with its surface.
In 2007, we had two of our anti-microbial masks approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as the first N95 respirator with anti-microbial properties. I was then swiftly ushered to meet with the US FDA for regulatory clearance.
Thereafter, together with our manufacturing partners, we continued developing various types of masks for public use and even specialty masks for our frontline healthcare workers, like the Pasture PM 30 N95 respirator, the first ‘earloop-like’ respirator with an adjustable buckle that is essentially a one-size-fits-all respirator that has high filtration properties, yet is easy to breathe in.
With our Ezy-Breathe™ technology, our FDA cleared mask and N95 surgical respirators have high filtration efficiency and lower breathing resistance, hence enhancing comfort of the users.
Was it mostly you who was involved in the invention process or did you have to hire new staff?
Lloyd: It started with one idea, and then the rest was just trying to connect with like-minded individuals and partners.
What sort of legacy do you wish to leave behind?
Lloyd: One who had positively contributed to the community.
What are some tips you would like to share with entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Lloyd: Have guts, but use brains. And be passionate.
What are three things that you have learned since starting out?
Lloyd: Be optimistic, but be realistic. Be aware of potential failures and prepare for contingencies. Especially in the healthcare sector, we have to frequently remind ourselves to work with our heart, not just our head.
Pasture Group is a global pharmaceutical and medical device company manufacturing and supplying US FDA approved surgical masks and NIOSH N95 respirators. Established in 1996, Pasture was one of the prime companies to procure flu vaccines for government hospitals during the 2003 SARS epidemic. They later started their Mask and Respirator R&D division in 2005 to create masks and respirators with high filtration efficiency and lower breathing resistance. Aside from masks, Pasture also provides wholesale procurement, handles shipments of cold-chain pharmaceutical products, and provides medical supplies to the marine and aviation industries.