Quiet achiever’s healthy outlook
Although partners Des Wheeler and Cameron Crowley tend to shy away from the limelight, their Dubbo-based animal-derived biological materials business has been helping to save lives around the world since it first opened its doors in 2000. Now, the well-known local businessmen are ready to take the operation to the next level, with Maverick Biosciences proving, once again, that you don’t have to be in the big smoke to be in the big league. JEN COWLEY spoke with Cameron Crowley about Maverick Biosciences’ quiet but extraordinary contribution both to regional business and global medical innovation.
In layman’s terms, what does Maverick Biosciences do?
Vast quantities of animal by-products end up in human health products and we supply that material – animal-derived biologicals – for use in the manufacture of those surgical and medical products.
So for instance, we pack whole frozen bovine gall bladders for a firm that uses the contents of those gall bladders in the manufacture of tuberculosis vaccine. A lot of our products go towards the manufacture of heart health and surgical products, kidney dialysis, dental health. We supply split pig-skins that can be used in wound care and hernia patches; we produce tendons for collagen production and bone materials for graft purposes. All sorts of things.
Almost none of our products are used here in Australia – we’re almost 100 per cent an export business. Our market is spread right across the world, with Asia the fast-developing market.
Future plans to meet that growing market?
We’re expanding to build a new “clean room” at new premises we’re developing here in Dubbo because we have a number of clients who are in development in “first in man” trials (of health products) that will soon have regulatory approval to go on the market. We could see that this new facility we’re developing here will build a new foundation for the growth of our business. We’ll be taking on a vertically-integrated processing role for our clients. We can become more of a medical product manufacturer as opposed to a raw-materials processor and exporter.
Where do you source your product?
We have teams in slaughterhouses around the east coast of Australia. In the old days, what our clients used to do was go to an abattoir, found a product and said, “okay, we can make this out of that”. What we’ve done is to find out what would be perfect for the client – in terms of size and specification – and we go and find the specific animal byproduct to suit that need.
Our intellectual property is from the slaughterhouse back. Our informal catchcry for our business used to be “blood on our boots” – as in, we’d say to the clients, “We’ll do the slaughterhouse stuff – don’t worry about that end of it”. That’s done well for us so far, but the culture of the organisation now has to be that we are pharmaceutical and medical device minded operators. We’ll be saying to clients that we’ll do an extraordinary job of the manufacturing and we’ll go into the slaughterhouses and really nail this for you.
Same activity – completely different mindset.
Your name includes the word “bioscience” – how much scientific activity goes on here?
Good question. Our clients actually dictate the tram-lines, if you like. They’ll say, “We need pig heart valves and we need them this size” and we’ll go from there. We’ll source those valves to specification - Maverick Biosciences essentially does fresh and frozen material, while Maverick Biomaterials is the vertically integrated manufacturer.
There must be some hefty specifications and requirements that you put in place for these raw animal-by-products. You obviously can’t just walk into any old place and say give me that bucket of pig guts?
No, exactly. We have to know that the places we’re sourcing the products are clean and disease free. Fortunately, the Australian meat export industry is pretty robust in that regard – we export to 70-odd countries.
Has that formed part of your marketing strategy – the fact that Australia is so “clean”?
Absolutely. We also have a business in New Zealand for the same purpose – it gives us access to different types of materials from different climates, geographies, different cattle breeds and so on. Both Australia and New Zealand are perceived worldwide as the cleanest on the planet in terms of meat export, although the Americans have re-argued themselves back into the same standing.
We can quite reasonably argue a benefit simply based on geographic isolation from disease, can’t we?
Indeed – there’s no Mexican or Canadian borders here! That’s not why we win clients – we do that by supplying the ideal material – but the disease-free assurance is part of that.
What are the sorts of disease control measures are in place?
Because Australia is such a significant exporter of mainly ovine (sheep) and bovine (cattle) products we have worldclass disease and management controls in place already because we export edible animal products to so many countries. The RFID tagging system is fantastic, for instance, for accountability and transparency.
So how does that pig heart valve, for argument’s sake, get from the slaughterhouse to the client? What’s the process from whoa to go?
Good question. We customise the supply chain. It’s a bespoke supply chain development for each and every client. The nuances are significant. So we look at the client’s specifications and costs of production and use the resources we have available to supply the product accordingly. Every enquiry is different and treated individually. We know from start to finish what each product is for and where in the world it’s going. It’s a business-to-business exchange.
How do you physically get the product to the client? Does it have to be refrigerated or frozen and what are the timeframes involved?
We have a lot of product that needs to be shipped at between 2-6 degrees Celsius and it needs to get to its destination in 48 hours. If it arrives at 48 hours and one minute, the whole shipment is rejected – zero dollars, bad luck, come again tomorrow.
Is that a drawback of our geography?
Absolutely. Australia isn’t that close to the rest of the world. But that’s the yin and yang of the whole thing – for instance, we’re disease free because we’re a bloody long way away! I like flying a long way – it means it’s safer.
A lot of what we do is by air. With the slaughterhouses we use, we’ve built our own logistical solutions – for instance, we use specialised shippers that will hold temperature for 96 hours that can be trucked by general freight. That sort of stuff – but it’s all done in collaboration with clients.
Is there an ethical consideration with using animal products?
In reality, our clients are dealing with that issue. The clients that are coming to us have already made the decision to use animal-derived materials in their products.
Is that an area of risk for your business as the animal welfare movement grows in strength?
In the geography of the manufacturing client, if it impacted them, then yes. If the client decides they no longer want to use animal products, they want to use synthetic material, then that obviously has an impact on us.
So why is animal-derived material better for use in medical and surgical products?
I suppose it’s just that animal-derived products are natural. For instance, try to use man-made materials to manufacture a collagen membrane that’s been “built” over an evolutionary time-frame of X, it’s pretty hard going. And you can’t know what effect that product is going to have on the human body, say, ten years from now. Animal-derived material can be manufactured (for use in medical products) in such a way that the human body will re-populate the structure with its own cells and basically graft into it. With a synthetic substance, that’s not going to happen.
It’s a pretty cool thing that you’re doing here behind the doors of this unassuming “shop front”. You’re helping to save lives all over the world. Do you ever stop and really reflect on that?
It is very cool. We don’t talk about it often, but every day we ship a number of membranes, for instance, that will eventually help to add five to fifteen years of life for someone somewhere in the world. So everyone who’s involved with this business – from logistics, to sales to the person who checks the invoices… everyone is involved.
Our purpose is “delivering animal-derived biological solutions globally saving lives”.
We have ladies who work in production teams and we ask them why they’re working for us – they say “well, I can get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and go to my local slaughterhouse and contribute to life saving products”.
So the move to the new premises is to allow for expansion of the business.
Yes, we started in 2000 the Kemwah building and then moved in next to a yoga studio upstairs from the Amaroo. Then, when we moved in here (the premises in Wheelers Lane) we thought, “Wow – we’re never going to fill this space”! Within two years we were going, “hmmm – okay, we need more room”. Developing these new premises has taken a fair bit of gumption, but we’re do-
We know from start to finish what each product is for and where in the world it’s going. It’s a business-to-business exchange.