S05 E06

Preventative Measures for the
Pharmaceutical Production Line


Tracy Clinch
Founder & CEO
Masitek Instruments Inc.

In the sixth episode of our fifth season, our host Peter Brenders talks with Tracy Clinch, Founder & CEO of Masitek Instruments Inc., about her business beginnings as a startup, creating in-line sensors for glass vials in pharmaceutical production and how Covid-19 affected her business.



From the Chronicle Podcast System, this is the NPC Podcast of the National Pharmaceutical Congress for August 25, 2021. The NPC Podcast was created to discuss and consider the purpose, process, and people of the pharma industry during the year of Covid. So, let's continue the healthcare conversation by answering questions sent by listeners, just like you. 


This program is presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada's next generation commercial partner. The industry is rapidly evolving and Impres is designed to help you evolve with it. Learn more about Impres tailored best in class solutions at www.impres.com.


Our guest today is Tracy Clinch of Masitek in Moncton, New Brunswick. Tracy will speak with your host, Peter Brenders about new Canadian made technologies for the life sciences to deploy. 


But before that, here is Mitch Shannon, CEO of Chronicle Companies.




Back in the days when every pharma company was a fully self-contained, integrated self-sufficient entity, there may not have been a lot of attention paid to innovations from suppliers. Packaging, distribution, and logistics certainly fit that category of things that didn't interest Oh, let's say marketers. But innovation tends to have a ripple effect and eventually makes itself felt right across the enterprise. 


Masitek is a Canadian company with the following mantra: innovative drugs require innovative storage and delivery solutions. Here's Tracy Clinch the company's CEO in conversation with Peter.




Welcome to the NPC Podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. In our continuing to look at the purpose, process, and people in pharma in Canada, this episode takes a look at related industries in the pharma space. Bringing new drugs to market isn't just one big pharma company doing everything. The reality is a massive network and undertaking have many suppliers and companies involved from developing raw materials to formulation and finishing to supporting the production and packaging and even delivery of drugs to market. 


Today we're going to talk with a Canadian entrepreneur that has developed a specialized technology to help in the manufacturing process and is used by global companies such as InBev, Nestle, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Diaggio, Unilever and Carlsberg to name a few. 


Much like developing a new drug, developing cutting edge technologies the pharma industry can use involves research and development, marketing and sales, risks and investments. From Atlantic Canada, we're delighted to have Tracy Clinch founder and CEO of Masitek. Welcome to the NPC Podcast, Tracy. 




Thanks for having me, Peter. It's my pleasure to be here. 




So Tracy, I was hoping we could start with hearing how a small company from Moncton has a technology used by global giant corporations. Maybe we could start with the origins in your technology, where did Masitek begin?




So Maskitek was 10 years old this past August, we started off as an agricultural company specializing in reducing damage to fragile fruits and vegetables. So there was a company that was started in another Atlantic province that was focusing on the agriculture side of the technology. And when that company unfortunately wasn't successful, the investment company that had partnered with them held the patent after the dissolution of their organization. So I was contacted by the venture corporation here in Moncton to build a company around a held patent. 


So I partnered with Technology Venture Corporation, and we built all of the new products that you see in our portfolio today, which address breakage to fragile containers in production. So we also still have our agriculture division, which does very well. It's a bit of an entity on its own. And we focus primarily now on the glass industry.




Okay, so I guess, kind of helping me understand where it's going then. So you started out, so 10 years, just sort of an early tech, a sensor of some sort, and then your business has changed over the years, maybe give it a little more color commentary in that.




Sure. So it started off as a project to address damaged to fragile fruits and vegetables where potatoes, eggs, bananas, any type of fruit or vegetable could be damaged in production or harvesting or transport. So that's where the origins of the idea started. 


So it's a sensor essentially, inside of, at that time, what was fragile agricultural products to determine where the damage points were happening through those processes. So whether it was the beginning of the line when the potatoes are being harvested, or at the end of the line when they're being packed and shipped to the market. 


So when we partnered on the patent, we saw the application really being expanded into the glass industry and the fragile container industry. So we did a complete overhaul of all of the sensor technology and put that application from the potatoes into glass and aluminum cans, we do aerosol, any type of fragile container that can be damaged in production.




So you re-envisioned the technology on that one. But where does pharma come into this story? I mean, how does this technology help pharma?




So pharmaceutical vials and syringes that are in glass hold biological entities, obviously. And in production, they can be damaged just like any other container. So a lot of times when you'll go into a beer facility, you'll see broken glass all over the floor, and you'll see spilled product. The damage point of that particular breakage doesn't actually happen usually, where you see the glass and the product, it happens somewhere earlier in the line, and then the catastrophic break is something much less impactful. 


So what we do is we go in and measure exactly where those high impact levels are happening to determine where those breaking points are in the production line. So much like a beer company, a food company, pharmaceutical vials also can be damaged in production. But the cost of damaging those vials in production means complete shutdown, complete cleanup, resetting the line, and then producing again. So the cost of a shutdown in pharmaceutical is even greater than that of the beer companies and food companies that we've worked with as well.




When you told me about the glass breakage in the beer company and beer all over the place, I was thinking that staff party, but apparently it's more serious than that. But so let's, let's focus on that serious nature in terms of the pharma because you're not having a pharma party like that. 


But you know, I'm thinking about like, considering the critical nature of getting the product right, every time in pharma. You know, I would have thought pharma already had this figured out like, how did you guys see the opportunity to help here and how receptive is the industry been to your technology?




The industry has been very receptive because, it's interesting, there are many types of inspection equipment that on pharmaceutical production lines, as well as beer and food lines. But those inspection points are moment in time - fill levels, foreign objects, foreign products, things like that. So those are moment in time snapshots of what is happening to that vial at that moment in time. 


Where we differ is that it's a very dynamic sensor that goes into all parts of the production line so that we can determine exactly where that failure happened earlier in the line so that the damage points don't happen further down the line. So it's, especially with the production ramp up that's happened over the last 18 months, of all types of vials, particularly as it relates to Covid. Of course, the importance of getting every one of those vials through production into their shipping containers, and safely to their destinations, at the proper temperature has become really critical. So it's been a very good reception in the pharma industry.




You're listening to Tracy Clinch, CEO of Masitek, on the NPC Podcast. 


I guess so yeah, I can, I can appreciate that you think about what's going on in our Covidworld and trying to get vaccines out there, all these glass vials of vaccines. And, yeah, nobody wants to lose so much as one vial. They’re so precious to get out there. 


But let's talk about those that last 18 months for a minute. I mean, what has the pandemic been like for your business?




At first, I think like most organizations, our customers were afraid, our company was afraid, we happen to be coming back from Europe on February 28. And while we were flying, just before we flew home from Europe, they shut Italy down, and Spain was in the throes of their first wave. So we had a bit of a preview of what was coming. So we actually were a little bit ahead of everything in Canada shutting down. 


So we had a lot of contingencies in place for what would happen if customers just completely didn't order or buy new systems. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, we did suffer, of course, a little bit of a hit because at first most of our customers panicked a little bit about budgets and what was going to be the impact of the pandemic on their particular business. As we know, a lot of food and beverage industries did quite well through the pandemic, they were able to, in some cases, increase margins and production and sales. But in other cases, of course the whole keg business went down the drain, so to speak. 


And so a lot of businesses were just scared at first, but then when they realized that it wasn't very long after, you know, the summer that we realized there was going to be a vaccine. So once that became apparent then the year really started to pick up so for us personally, our company was able to make it through, we kept all of our employees, we came out on the other side. Customers on the pharma side, were doing everything they could to ramp up their production. So they were interested in having every vial get through every process perfectly. So that worked out well for us. And on the food and beverage side, it was quickly apparent that those industries were going to survive, and some thrive through everybody staying home.




Okay, so got through. So what's next? You know, how or when are businesses poised for growth? Are things starting to turn around, or do you see new light here?




Yeah, this year has been, so we're through, we run a calendar year, we are running through or coming into the end of the third quarter, and it'll be the best year that Masitek has had in our 10 years. So where we saw the slowdown last year of customers who were planning on purchasing, we have now seen all of those customers come back plus the ones that we were anticipating for this year. 


So we're very fortunate that our rebound has been quite quick. I think from what I've seen in other industries that we are associated with, their recovery has also taken a turn, there seems to be a lot of optimism and progress being made in innovation, as well as trying to get production back up to where it was before. And that, of course makes it interesting for us to be able to supply a product that can help make that happen.




I'm sure we have a number of aspiring entrepreneurs listening and wondering if they can replicate the Masitek game plan. What advice do you have for these beginning entrepreneurs, any life lessons from your startup days?




Definitely, I think one of the biggest lessons I learned early is, especially in any type of technology or innovation that is relatively new to the market, is to try to stay as focused as possible. Early on in your technology journey, you'll find that customers that you really, really want will tell you we would buy this, if only it could do X, or we would buy this if only you could build it this way. What I found was that every time we tried to go in a slightly different path away from what the core technology was, then we lost ourselves a little bit in that sort of squirrel chase. 


So we very quickly promised ourselves as the senior group in our organization that whenever we strayed a little bit, we would try to put ourselves right back on the path to focus on what it was that we were trying to achieve, and trying to do exactly that the best of anyone. And that has served us very well. I mean, we learned a lot of life lessons early about trying to chase those squirrels. But it really, we were able to get ourselves back into focus by reminding ourselves constantly what we were trying to achieve and how we were trying to achieve it.




You're listening to the NPC Podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. 


An amazing success story for Masitek. Especially as I look at it in terms of the bias to is like of all the places in Canada to build a global company, Moncton doesn't always come to the top of the list for some people. So I just wonder if you can give me a little insight in terms of the benefits and challenges of having a global company based out of Moncton.




Yeah, I'm New Brunswicker, born and raised. I've been very fortunate to work for excellent New Brunswick companies through my career and then started one 10 years ago. And I have a very strong bias that it is absolutely the best place to live. And I think a lot of Canadians are starting to agree with me based on the influx of people we have coming from everywhere else during the pandemic to live here. 


It's not without its challenges. I read a story last week about a couple who moved here and they found a beautiful farmhouse half an hour outside of Moncton on acreage, on water with, you know, ducks and geese and everything else. And then he quickly realized that, the husband in the relationship quickly realized that there was no internet in that area, so he had to rent an office in the city. 


So rural Canada and Moncton is a fairly good sized city, but it's rural around. Definitely not the easiest place to build a business from a global perspective, we do 95% export, we’re three planes away from our closest customer outside of Canada. So it makes it very difficult for us to be efficient when it comes to getting to our customers. 


With a sensor technology, we have a hardware component and a software component. And we have never lost a sale when a customer has seen the product and what it can do. But getting from Moncton to anywhere to show them that product, of course gets very complicated budget wise as well as there are only so many of us in the sales area of the company. So it does present its challenges. But through the last 16 months as we're doing this podcast now and as we've all done 10 zoom calls already today, we have done a tremendous amount of work more efficiently through the acceptance of technology and the ability for people to connect in ways that we didn't before. In that way, we've been able to be successful through the pandemic and see ourselves being more successful even going forward.




So what's keeping you up at night?




What's keeping me up at night would be getting through this to whatever. And I don't really want to overuse the overused expression of new normal. But there is going to be a settling that happens in business. And that settling is going to be the balance between in person meetings and online meetings and getting our technology into a position where we can demonstrate it in both ways very effectively. So that the real value of the product comes through in the way that it should and the way that it does in person. 


So what keeps me up at night is just the settling out of where we're going to sort of land from a business perspective about, you know, how customers are going to buy, and how we are going to sell to them. And it's been a big transformation. And it's going to continue to be a transformation until we get to the settling out of it.




So what are you most excited about then?




I'm most excited about our customers, I get really excited when we have customers rebuy more sensors, because then I know that we're helping. We built this company really with the view of partnering with our customers to make their lines and their products better. And so I get really excited when customers reorder, add to their portfolio of sensors from our company, and make the effort to tell us how much it's helped them. 


So if you think about how many new container designs come out from companies every year, we have the ability to be able to test all of those containers before they're ever even put into production. So you could select like, if you were redesigning a vial, if you were redesigning a bottle of wine, you could test that product before it even gets to the production line to see if it's going to make it through your production line. So I really like partnering with our customers to solve those problems. And that's what gets all of our team excited.




We have been speaking with Tracy Clinch, CEO of Masitek on the NPC Podcast. Thank you for listening.




Tracy and Peter. Thank you, if you're looking for more about Tracy's company, find it at mmaazz.org. And by the way, that's a very cool URL.


What did you think of the topic for today's podcast? Share your thoughts with us via Twitter @2021NPC or send us an email to help at chronicle.org. You can also phone our comment line at 647-873-6995 and leave a recorded message so that we might use your voice on our next program. 


If you liked today's podcast, please share it with your colleagues. Find it at Apple iTunes, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. 


The NPC Podcast is presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada's next generation commercial partner check them out at www.impres.com


I'm Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies. The Podcast Producer is Jeremy Visser assisted by Aria Empakeris. The announcer was Leona Halba, the musical theme is performed with laser focus by the NPC Podcast Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Jorge Millbrook. 


We'll talk again next Wednesday. Until then, stay safe.