Cornering the global market for blood testing kits
BioMedica Diagnostics Inc. is well established as an exporter, with almost 100 percent of the sales of its blood coagulation testing kits, reagents and other products in more than 70 countries around the world.
(Photo: BioMedica Diagnostics Inc.)
But today the Windsor, Nova Scotia, company is stepping up its efforts abroad, with an aggressive growth plan that includes refocusing on existing markets and products, while extending its global reach and developing new disruptive technologies for the future. The firm has been given fast‑track status under a pilot program of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) that will provide resources to help it produce more revenues and generate additional jobs in the community.
“We’d like to expand our international presence two- to three‑fold over the next few years,” says Lauren Iannetti, BioMedica’s vice‑president of business development, noting that the private company’s strategy is based on selecting distribution partners in the field, with the assistance of the TCS, that can help it grow. “We want to be market leaders.”
BioMedica was started in 1999 as a medical device company focused on bringing affordable health care to countries around the world in the field of haemostasis (bleeding) and thrombosis (clotting) in the body. Its plasma‑based products are sold through a network of distributors to laboratories and used in panels of tests. They are either directly marketed under the BioMedica brand or purchased by instrumentation companies, which then sell the products under their own labels.
The company was revamped five years ago under a new president and CEO, Brian Jeffers, and it renewed its commitment to routine coagulation testing in the international market. Three years ago, BioMedica expanded to include a specialty coagulation testing line through a firm that it acquired in Stamford, Connecticut, which increased its offering to some 100 products.
Tips for life sciences companies looking to go global
Exporters looking to aggressively extend their global reach in a field such as medical devices need passion, drive and a good business plan that ensures they don’t over extend, the experts say.
“The realistic thing is how much business can a company handle,” says Butch Postma, a trade commissioner who covers the life sciences sector in Atlantic Canada and is based in Charlottetown. “It’s a work in progress with all clients.”
Companies looking at international markets have various support partners at home to assist with export readiness, Postma says. “As clients carry out their due diligence on potential markets, an excellent first step for them is to leverage the domestic TCS network in Canada.” The company’s information is verified in a client management system, he says, making the client aware of the TCS’s service offerings and carrying out an introduction to TCS officers abroad. “This is all part of the beginning steps as we support the client with a recommended strategy, contacts and focused intelligence for the market or markets identified.”
The biggest challenge for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is to get themselves known to new customers, he says, noting that many also “fall down on not following up” once they’ve made initial contacts. “Sometimes you have the president of the company who’s also the marketing guy, who’s also the finance guy. And when he gets back to the office the international business component takes a backseat, because there's other things that demand his attention.”
Aurora Polo, a trade commissioner in Barcelona whose responsibilities include Spain’s life sciences and health industries sector, says the best market-entry strategy for Canadian medical devices or diagnostics SMEs is “to identify a good distributor or commercial partner with the right knowledge of the market and industry sector.”
It’s important for a potential partner to have contacts in both the public and private health-care sectors, with expertise in the regulatory framework for such devices. It’s also critical to have appropriate knowledge of the bid procurement structure and processes at the local, regional, national and international level.
Having the right contacts and being able to provide adequate technical support are key, she says. “Visiting the market is also a must, as personal relations are important to establish long-standing solid business relations with distributors and commercial partners.”
Today the company has about 50 employees and it is transferring that U.S. operation to its location in Windsor, west of Halifax, where it occupies a former high school in an agricultural setting. “It allows us to lean into that aggressive growth space,” says Iannetti, noting that more than 98 percent of BioMedica’s products are exported, with the help of the TCS.
“It’s an excellent resource,” she says of the TCS, which has chosen BioMedica for the six-month fast‑track pilot. The program is intended to give 20 firms priority service and help them grow. BioMedica has selected 15 countries to focus on, including 10 markets where the company is not very well established or “we think we can do more,” Iannetti says, among them Dubai, Spain and South Africa. There are also five brand‑new countries for BioMedica, including Mexico, India and Hungary.
Iannetti says that in Spain, BioMedica has “dabbled here and there,” but it is now looking to advance significantly with the assistance of Aurora Polo, a trade commissioner in Barcelona who covers the country’s life sciences and health industries sector.
The company faces hurdles there from language barriers to complex regulations for medical devices, Iannetti says. “We rely on Aurora to bring forward potential leads of companies that would be ideal partners for us.”
Polo says Spain is among the top five countries in Europe in sales of medical devices, “however it is competitive, with many players who are all attracted by the market potential,” she says. “With our help, BioMedica has been able to establish contact with some of the top diagnostics medical device and health technologies distributors, commercial partners and manufacturers.” The majority of these have confirmed an interest in collaborating with BioMedica.
Iannetti says the company replies on Polo’s guidance. “We’re the experts on our products, and we greatly rely on the trade commissioners to be experts on the in‑market details.”
TCS specialists can check out leads and make introductions to possible distributors “rather than us making cold calls,” she says, which helps to “legitimize” the company. “If the trade commissioner can vet the potential partner and give it the thumbs up, that instantly eliminates many of our concerns.”
The TCS organizes events, for example at Medica, a giant international trade show for the medical sector held each year in Düsseldorf, Germany. At the one in November 2018, BioMedica had 50‑plus side meetings, Iannetti says, many of which the TCS set up.
It also offers assistance at home, through its regional office in Halifax. Butch Postma, a trade commissioner who covers the life sciences sector in Atlantic Canada and is based in Charlottetown, “has been a great champion of ours,” Iannetti says, from suggesting strategies to proposing new markets. “He’s on it.”
Postma says the company is “an excellent user of the TCS,” and has been “making aggressive plays internationally,” from expanding its export targets to enhancing its market share in countries where it already has business.
“They have a good business plan and from an international point of view they have a combination of product and people to really carry it out,’” says Postma, who calls himself “a matchmaker between the client and my colleagues abroad.”
BioMedica’s Brian Jeffers says that the TCS has helped the company implement its global objectives. “The TCS, both here and in international markets, has been highly effective for us and a pleasure to work with,” says Jeffers. He is a member of the TCS industry Life Sciences Sector Advisory Group, which looks at trends and changes in the sector and offers guidance to help the TCS develop and deliver programs and services to life science exporters.
BioMedica markets itself as “proudly Canadian,” Iannetti says. “There’s a view that Canada and our products are very high quality.” She hopes the TCS can help the company “navigate some of the trickier markets” and help with matters such as payment issues and logistics as the company increases its reach.
It has a busy and active research & development team that’s looking at disruptive technologies, for instance new ways of doing blood coagulation testing, Iannetti says.
BioMedica looks for well‑established distributors that are the “right fit,” says Iannetti, screening and selecting those that can act autonomously on its behalf. “We don’t want to have to hand hold and we don’t need to babysit them.” This makes it imperative that “the trade commissioners are on task so we’re confident we’re signing up the right partners,” she adds.
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