Simonson: Newport's business continuing to flourish in China
WORTHINGTON -- While snow and icy roads delayed the start of Friday's sessions at the ninth annual Regional Bioscience Conference in Worthington, dozens of people braved the conditions to hear the day's first speaker, Randy Simonson, talk about the continued growth of Newport Laboratories in China.
Simonson is president of Newport, which was acquired within the last year by Sanofi, a company focused on human health research, and its animal health component, Merial.
A locally grown and developed company, Newport Labs received its USDA licensure in 1997 to begin formulating autogenous (custom-made) vaccines for the swine industry. Expansion progressed rapidly in 2006 and 2007 in research, development and diagnostics, and by 2010, Newport launched its first USDA-licensed commercial product, ParaSail.
Through the years, the company has garnered worldwide attention for its work in "finding solutions to animal health problems through diagnostic testing and production of autogenous biologics."
"Over the last seven, eight, nine years, we've had several people come to us from different countries," Simonson said. Prior to its acquisition by Merial, Newport had established partnerships in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Russia, in addition to China.
China is the largest pork producing country in the world, growing 48 to 50 percent of live hogs globally, Simonson said. The country raises six times more pigs than the United States on a slightly larger land mass that is shared with 1.35 billion people.
"They have a large labor force, but they're short on land and water," Simonson said, adding that the average acreage per household in China is less than one hectare (2.5 acres).
While technology has brought about some change in pork production in China -- modern facilities are shower-in, shower-out -- there are still many small farms with open lots for pigs. Disease in the country's pig population is rampant, although Simonson said the Chinese are hesitant and often avoid acknowledging disease problems.
"They have everything as far as diseases over there, but they don't recognize it," Simonson said, adding that they're just now saying they have swine influenza. He said the Chinese don't believe their hogs have PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome), either, but it is evident.
In late 2005, Newport was asked to bring its business model to China, and in December 2006, the YaBote laboratory was formed. Wuhan Chopper is the majority shareholder of the company, with Newport as one of three minority shareholders.
"The laboratories are much more modest, but they're functional," Simonson said of YaBote.
He visits China twice a year to work with and educate veterinarians and pork producers in the country.
"We've had to teach them diagnostics techniques -- how to post an animal and look at it," Simonson said. "Here, (farmers) will sacrifice a live animal to do diagnostic work. Over there, they'll keep a sick looking one alive."
Up to 100 percent of the pigs in China have mycoplasma pneumonia at slaughter -- the virus is commonly passed from young sows to their piglets.
"Getting a vaccination program in an area is really a challenge," Simonson added. "It just doesn't happen."
Newport Laboratories is now in the process of getting ParaSail registered for use in China, and Simonson continues to train veterinarians there. In fact, he leaves Sunday for a week-long working visit to the area around Wuhan.
"We've done schools, meeting with a whole room of swine producers and veterinarians," he said. "We help train them in diagnostics and health."
Newport is just one of the businesses working with the Chinese to improve herd health in their pork production.
"A lot of U.S. veterinarians and people at the university help them," Simonson said. "They need a lot of help technically."
As for the profit potential in China, Simonson said it's there, but it has been slow progress.
"Taking the message to the customers has been slower," he said. "It's been profitable, just not as much as we thought, but it's growing."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.