IGENE BIOTECHNOLOGY INC (IGNE) - Description of business
General IGENE Biotechnology, Inc. ("Igene") is engaged in the business of developing, marketing, and manufacturing specialty ingredients for human and animal nutrition. Igene was formed on October 27, 1981 to develop, produce and market value-added specialty biochemical products. Igene is a supplier of natural astaxanthin, an essential nutrient in different feed applications and as source of pigment for coloring farmed salmon species. Igene also supplies nutraceutical ingredients, including astaxanthin. Igene is focused on research and development of fermentation technology, nutrition and health in its marketing of products and applications worldwide. Igene has devoted its resources to the development of proprietary processes to convert selected agricultural raw materials or feedstocks into commercially useful and cost effective products for the food, feed, flavor and agrochemical industries. In developing these processes and products, Igene has relied on the expertise and skills of its in-house scientific staff and, for special projects, various consultants. In 2000, Igene formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, Igene Chile Comercial, Ltda., in Chile. The subsidiary has a sales and customer service office in Puerto Varas, Chile, and a product warehouse in Puerto Montt, Chile. Igene currently leases manufacturing capacity in Mexico City, Mexico, through a contract manufacturer on an as needed basis. During the year 2001, Igene purchased its sales agent, ProBio Nutraceuticals AS ("ProBio"), a Norwegian company. ProBio specializes in sales and marketing to the pharmaceutical industry and feed ingredients markets. In addition to ProBio's nutraceuticals business, it was hoped the purchase would add to Igene's management structure and enhance sales development. Following the acquisition, Stein Ulve and Per Benjaminsen, the managing director and director of marketing and sales, respectively, of ProBio became our chief executive officer and chief marketing officer, respectively, pursuant to written employment agreements. This division was referred to as Igene Norway AS. On February 5, 2003, Igene Biotechnology Inc., in an effort to focus on and grow its core business, disposed of its interest in ProBio. Fermtech AS, a joint stock company incorporated in the Kingdom of Norway and owned equally by our former chief executive officer, Stein Ulve and our former chief marketing officer, Per Benjaminsen, purchased the shares of ProBio. Mr. Ulve resigned as CEO and director of Igene as December 31, 2002, while Mr. Benjaminsen continues to serve the Company as Director of Sales and Marketing. In an effort to develop a dependable source of production, on March 19, 2003, Tate & Lyle PLC and Igene Biotechnology, Inc announced a 50:50 joint venture to produce AstaXin(R) for the aquaculture industry. Production utilizes Tate & Lyle's fermentation capability together with the unique technology developed by Igene. Part of Tate & Lyle's existing Selby, England, citric acid facility was modified to include the production of this product. Tate & Lyle's investment of $25 million included certain of its facility assets that were used in citric acid production. The production facility has been completed and is now in full production.Government Regulation The manufacturing and marketing of most of the products Igene has developed are, and will likely continue to be, subject to regulation by various governmental agencies in the United States, including the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"), the Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), and comparable agencies in other countries. Igene, as a matter of policy, requires that its products conform to current Good Manufacturing Practices ("GMPs") (as defined under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the rules and regulations thereunder) and Igene believes all of its products so conform. The extent of any adverse governmental regulation that might arise from future administrative or legislative action, including current rules and regulations pertaining to the process of GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) affirmations, cannot be predicted. In a notice published in the Federal Register July 6, 2000, the FDA announced the amendment of its color additive regulations to provide for the safe use of Phaffia yeast, such as that in the Company's product, AstaXin(R), as a color additive in aquaculture feeds. This ruling, which became effective August 8, 2000, allows Igene to market its product, AstaXin(R), for aquaculture feeds and fish produced in, or imported into, the United States. This ruling is available to the public in the Federal Register. Igene has also previously obtained approval for AstaXin(R) from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Additional foreign approval applications for AstaXin(R), including those for the European Union, are in progress. Igene is required to perform additional tests and prepare additional documentation as part of the application process. The initial application was submitted in May of 2004. It is hoped the application will be approved in the second half of 2006. In July 2000, Igene also obtained clearance from the FDA to market its product, AstaXin(R), as a human dietary supplement in the United States. Scientific literature indicates that natural astaxanthin, such as that in the Company's product, AstaXin(R), may offer health benefits for humans due to its antioxidant properties. The FDA notification and the Company's submissions are available to the public from the FDA. Comparable agencies in the European Union and other foreign countries may have their own additional registration procedures. No additional applications for approval of AstaXin(R) as a human nutritional supplement have yet been submitted. Igene has not incurred and does not anticipate any material environmental compliance costs.Research and Development As of December 31, 2005, Igene had expended approximately $15,442,000 on research and development since its inception on October 27, 1981. The costs listed below for 2005 and 2004 were reimbursed by the Joint Venture. Sales of astaxanthin (through Igene and the Joint Venture) resulted in revenues of $25,400,000 as of December 21, 2005, $17,745,000 of which were realized through the Joint Venture. Igene will continue to incur research and development costs in connection with improvements in its existing processes and products, but it does not anticipate development of new processes and products in 2006. Research and development expenditures for each of the last two years are as follows: 2005 $ 819,782 2004 $ 847,544 Igene's research and development activities have resulted in the development of processes to produce the products hereinafter discussed.Commercial ProductsAstaXin(R) AstaXin(R) is Igene's registered trademark for its dried yeast product made from a proprietary strain of yeast developed by Igene. AstaXin(R) is a natural source of astaxanthin, a pigment which imparts the characteristic red color to the flesh of salmon, trout, prawns and certain other types of fish and shellfish. In the ocean, salmon and trout obtain astaxanthin from krill and other planktonic crustaceans in their diet. A krill and crustacean diet would be prohibitively expensive for farm-raised salmonids. Without the addition of astaxanthin, the flesh of such fish is a pale, off-white color, which is less appealing to consumers expecting "salmon-colored" fish. Fish feeding trials in Europe, Asia, and North and South America have demonstrated the efficacy of AstaXin(R) in pigmenting fish. An estimated 1,000,000 metric tons of farm-raised salmon are produced annually worldwide. The Joint Venture derived revenue during 2005 and 2004 from sales of AstaXin(R), the majority of which were to fish producers in the aquaculture industry in Chile, as well as sales exported to Japan and Canada. On May 20, 2000, Igene renewed its manufacturing arrangement with Fermic, S.A. de C.V., of Mexico City, Mexico ("Fermic"), for the production of its natural astaxanthin pigment, AstaXin(R), in Fermic's manufacturing facility in Mexico. Commercial production began in January of 1998. The Fermic contract executed in May 2000, provides that the manufacturer has the non-exclusive right and license to produce AstaXin(R) for the Joint Venture, is paid a cash fee based on manufacturing capacity, and may receive up to 20,000,000 shares of Igene common stock in lieu of additional cash based on quantity of product manufactured over the six year term. Of the 20,000,000 shares available to be earned, 19,454,430 have been earned to date. Fermic provides equipment and facilities necessary to manufacture and store the product and is responsible for purchasing raw materials. The Joint Venture is responsible for sales efforts and for ensuring the quality of the pigment. The Joint Venture also has a role in ensuring that the manufacturing process works effectively. The contract expires May 20, 2006, unless terminated earlier by either party. As of March 31, 2006 the two companies are currently discussing renewing this agreement. See Item 2. Description of Property. On March 18, 2003, the Company entered into a Joint Venture Agreement with Tate & Lyle Fermentation Products Ltd. ("Tate"). Pursuant to a Joint Venture Agreement, the Company and Tate agreed to form a joint venture (the "Joint Venture") to manufacture, market and sell Astaxanthin and derivative products throughout the world for all uses other than as a Nutraceutical or otherwise for direct human consumption. Tate contributed $24,600,000 in cash to the Joint Venture primarily for the construction of a new facility, while the Company transferred to the Joint Venture its technology relating to the production of Astaxanthin and assets related thereto. These assets will continue to be used by the Joint Venture in the same manner as historically used by the Company. The Company and Tate each have a 50% ownership interest in the Joint Venture and equal representation on the Board of Directors of the Company. The initial value of the Company's investment in the Joint Venture has been recorded at an amount equal to the book value of the Company's consideration contributed at the creation of the Joint Venture. As the cost of the Company's technology and intellectual property has been previously expensed and had a carrying amount of zero, the investment in the Joint Venture has been initially recorded with a book value of $316,869, which represents the unamortized production costs contributed to the Joint Venture. In addition to the Company's initial investment in the Joint Venture, the Company has made $1,059,965 in advances to the Joint Venture and a $6,000 capital investment. On June 15th 2005, the Company executed a limited guarantee for one of the debt obligations of the Joint Venture, a copy of which has been attached and filed with this Form 10-KSB as Exhibit 10.11. Under the terms of the limited guarantee, the Company will guarantee up to 4,200,000 British pounds sterling (approximately $7,350,000 at February 10, 2006). The Company subsequently entered into an agreement with Tate & Lyle (the other 50% partner in the Joint Venture) where Tate & Lyle has agreed to arrange funds for the Joint Venture, without recourse to Igene Biotechnology, Inc., until the Joint Venture produces a regular monthly cash flow, as defined, for four consecutive months. As of March 29, 2006, the Joint Venture has not met the cash flow requirements. Production utilizes Tate's fermentation capability together with the unique technology developed by Igene. Part of Tate's existing Selby, England, citric acid facility will be modified to produce up to 1,500 tons per annum of this product. Tate & Lyle's investment of approximately $25 million included certain of its facility assets currently used in citric acid production. Based on estimates of worldwide production of farm raised salmon, Igene believes the market for astaxanthin as a color additive in salmon feed exceeds $200,000,000 per year worldwide, which would require approximately 10,000 metric tons of AstaXin(R) to serve 100% of the market. A single competitor, who produces a chemically synthesized product, presently controls more than 80% of the world market for astaxanthin as a pigment for aquaculture. The Joint Venture's production through the first half of 2005 had been limited by the development of the new facility. During 2005 the Joint Venture successfully completed the new production facility. However, there can be no assurance that the Company and venture will be able to utilize these additional sources of production capacity, or that, if it is able to utilize the additional production capacity, that it will be able to do so on terms favorable to Igene or that any level of demand will continue. Previously reported litigation (original lawsuit filed July 21, 1997, in the U.S. District Court, Baltimore, MD) between Archer Daniels Midland, Inc. ("ADM") and Igene, involving allegations of patent infringement and counterclaims concerning the theft of trade secrets was settled on September 29, 2003. ADM had requested injunctive relief as well as an unspecified amount of damages, and Igene had filed a $300,450,000 counterclaim concerning the theft of trade secrets. Resolution of the dispute between ADM and Igene did not result in an unfavorable outcome to Igene. Accordingly, no liability was recorded on the balance sheet. Under the terms of the settlement, Igene is permitted to continue to make and sell its product, AstaXin(R). See Item 3. Legal Proceedings. During 2001, Igene began investigating other possible commercial uses of astaxanthin, including its application as a human nutritional supplement. Igene has formulated natural astaxanthin as a super-antioxidant, AstaXin(R), for the North American dietary supplement market. Antioxidants are one of the largest product categories in the health and nutrition industry.Patents and Trademarks It is Igene's policy to protect its intellectual property rights by a variety of means, including applying for patents and trademarks in the United States and in other countries. Igene also relies upon trade secrets and improvements, un-patented proprietary know-how and continuing technological innovation to develop and maintain its competitive position. Igene places restrictions in its agreements with third parties with respect to the use and disclosure of any of its proprietary technology. Igene also has internal nondisclosure safeguards, including confidentiality agreements with employees and consultants. All patents and trademarks are carefully reviewed and those with no foreseeable commercial value are abandoned to eliminate costly maintenance fees. Patents, trademarks on technology and products with recognized commercial value, and which Igene is currently maintaining, include those for AstaXin(R), which have various remaining lives ranging from 1 year to 23 years.Competition Competitors in the biotechnology field in the United States and elsewhere are numerous and include major chemical, pharmaceutical and food companies, as well as specialized biotechnology companies. Competition can be expected to increase as small biotechnology companies continue to be purchased by major multinational corporations with substantial resources. Competition is also expected to increase with the introduction of more diverse products developed by biotechnology firms, increasing research cooperation among academic institutions and large corporations, and continued government funding of research and development activities in the biotechnology field, both in the United States and overseas. Unlike the majority of biotechnology companies, which are developing products principally for the pharmaceutical industry, Igene has focused its own activities on the development of proprietary products for use in aquaculture and nutritional supplement industries. In the future, however, competitors may offer products, that, by reason of price, or efficacy, or more substantial resources for technology advances, may be superior to Igene's existing or future products. A single large pharmaceutical company presently dominates the market for astaxanthin pigment for aquaculture in which Igene's product, AstaXin(R), is presently marketed and sold. Igene believes that AstaXin(R), which is made from yeast, will compete with this dominant producer, and other producers whose products are chemically synthesized, based on its use of natural ingredients. As consumers and producers of fish become more aware of other alternatives, Igene believes that they will desire natural ingredients, such as those in AstaXin(R). Several companies are also known to be developing and marketing other natural astaxanthin products. Some of these companies' products are made from algae, while others are made from yeast. Igene believes that AstaXin(R) will compete with other companies' astaxanthin products which are made from algae, due to Igene's higher production capacity and lower production costs, but can provide no assurances in that regard. Igene also believes that AstaXin(R) will compete with other companies' astaxanthin products which are also made from yeast due to our proprietary process to disrupt yeast cell walls, which, as studies have shown, makes AstaXin(R) more readily absorbed by the fish. Igene is also beginning to explore the possible use of AstaXin(R) as a human nutritional supplement. This market is attractive because of potentially higher profit margins. Other companies are known to also be developing and marketing astaxanthin products for the human nutritional supplement market. Igene cannot yet predict how competitive it would be in this market.Sources and Availability of Raw Materials Raw materials used in the manufacture of AstaXin(R) consist principally of agricultural commodities widely available in world markets from many suppliers, which may be used interchangeably. We do not anticipate material price fluctuations or changes in availability in these raw materials in the near future.Employees At December 31, 2005, Igene had 13 full time employees. Three full time employees are in administration and/or marketing, while the remainder are engaged in research, process development and support of manufacturing activities. The full time marketing employees include one representative in Norway. The remainder of the employees are based in the U.S. Igene also utilizes various consultants on an as-needed or short-term basis. None of Igene's employees are represented by a labor union and Igene has experienced no work stoppages. Igene believes its relations with its employees are satisfactory.