FREDERICTON–Few know about the biotech wonder material that is chitosan. Even fewer know that a hypoallergenic version of this material, used for a huge variety of purposes ranging from wound care to winemaking, is being produced by a company in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
While chitosan is often produced from shellfish, Mycodev Group produces high purity, pharmaceutical-grade chitosan from fungus grown through fermentation technology. This makes the chitosan safe to use for everyone.
Founders David Brown, Fredericton-born scientist, and Brennan Sisk, marketing and business development specialist, explain that they combined their expertise to fill a gap in the market and make Mycodev a reality.
Brown explains that since chitosan is most often made from shellfish, there was a need for material produced in other ways, such as the fermentation method they settled on. He says that even more interesting than their production is what their clients are doing with the chitosan they produce.
“They’re making amazing diagnostic kits for cancer. They’re making gene delivery platforms,” Brown says. “They’re tackling all kinds of very important health issues that I think are going to be huge in the next century.”
“Another big one is wound care: clients using chitosan as one of the main ingredients for making medical devices to stop bleeding for military, first-responders or just the average person … we’re like the secret sauce to a huge amount of different medical applications that are really exciting.”
Mycodev first began when Brown connected with BioNB and met Sisk at a group event.
“It was kind of a perfect match because I don’t know anything about business but Brennan is a business specialist,” Brown says. “With Brennan’s skills, my skills and then about half a year later we found an engineer, Peter Dean, who kind of filled the circle in terms of the skills we needed to start the company. We were in the first cohort of Planet Hatch.”
Sisk says the first step after they joined together was to make sure what they wanted to do was feasible. After extensive research, they tested their first materials at the Biorefinery Technology Scale-Up Centre in Grand Falls. Once they determined their solution was viable on a small scale, they got to work figuring out how to scale up.
“Now we’re at the point where fermentation is boring, extraction is boring. Now we’re moving on to other things. Boring, by the way is good. We want boring,” Sisk says. “To go from initial stages to where we are today, in biotechnology terms we’ve done cartwheels … We’ve all bootstrapped and as an investment has been taken on, the majority has been injected into infrastructure.”
Sisk explains that the benefit of a company that has to have physical space for production is that it contributes to the local economy and is a safe investment for the area since they can’t easily be bought up and moved.
“We’re infrastructure heavy so when you’re in the midst of paying for it, it sucks, but on the other end, as a region and a means to diversify an economy, it’s a good thing,” Sisk says. “We have tangible assets here and we can prove that it doesn’t matter what industry partner we have, what client we have, we’ve developed something here where we can demonstrate that it doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, we can make it here and ship it.”
“Infrastructure stays here. We’re well-rooted and it doesn’t matter what happens to Mycodev, we’ll always be able to demonstrate that whatever we do we can make it work here.”
Sisk and Brown recognize that many companies in today’s economy need to have the ability to go global. What they’re trying to do with Mycodev is create a reason and motivation for people to stay in the province and succeed.
“People need something to come back to if they do leave and if they do stay, people need a reason to stay,” Sisk says. What we’re trying to do is create the conditions for people to stay or people to go and come back.”
Sisk and Brown explain they’ve come across challenges trying to convince investors are the public that biotech companies can succeed in New Brunswick.
“People are coming around to it,” Brown says. “I think hopefully we’re proving to people that biotech can work here in the province and that it’s a sustainable, long term investment … we’ve got bricks and mortar here, not that we want to move, but we can’t move because it’s a long term investment.”
“On top of being entrepreneurs and starting a company, we’ve also become almost like politicians in that we go out and talk to people and tell them about biotech and educate them. It’s paid off. I think people in the province are definitely coming around to it.”