By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Immuno Mycologics Inc., or IMMY, is a locally owned business with a global market — an ideal economic model. It has found that having a big enough heart to develop tests for the world’s most neglected diseases also can be good business.
The perfect model of home-grown entrepreneurship is to create products that will sell to a broad market, thus bringing outside money back to the local economy.
Seventy percent of IMMY’s income is domestic for all of its products, but less than 1 percent is from Oklahoma, meaning the company is bringing money back to the state and Norman.
But IMMY isn’t just about making money, said its owners. The little company with a big heart is also about saving lives. IMMY develops diagnostics and other tools for treating neglected diseases that take hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
IMMY manufactures 60 different scientific and medical tests, many of which are not available through any other market. One test developed by IMMY could help diagnose and prevent 620,000 deaths annually.
Since IMMY needs to expand soon, the company looked at several potential sites, and the Norman Economic Development Coalition worked hard to keep the local company in Norman.
If the city council approves the contract tonight, IMMY will be the first tenant in the Advanced Manufacturing Center in the industrial business park being developed as part of the University North Park on 24th Avenue Northwest.
“This is why NEDC exists — to help company’s like this grow and prosper,” NEDC Executive Director Don Wood said.
Located north of the retail center and Embassy Suites Norman, the manufacturing center is being built on 60 acres of land purchased from the developer by NEDC. IMMY wants to buy one lot in the manufacturing center for $1.92 million.
This initial lot sale will kick off the project and help solidify the funding of the loan for the entire project’s infrastructure, according to city staff reports.
NEDC is giving IMMY a $770,000 discount as an incentive, resulting in a “net purchase price of $1.15 million.”
Under the agreement, IMMY will be obligated to begin construction of a 60,000-square-foot building within 18 months and complete construction within 36 months.
IMMY will invest about $12.5 million in additional capital with the project. If the company’s business plan moves forward as expected, it could purchase an additional lot for future expansion. IMMY expects to add at least 50 new jobs over the next 10 years at annual salaries of at least $50,000 annually plus benefits.
IMMY has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic and big reference labs such as ARUP Laboratories to create badly needed medical tests and related products.
Founded in 1979 by Stan Bauman, IMMY developed, manufactured and marketed immunodiffusion, complement fixation and latex agglutination tests for diseases too small to catch the eye of large companies.
“All of these tests are esoteric tests — none of the big companies look at markets less than $25 million,” COO Scott Bauman said.
Scott Bauman and his brother, Sean Bauman, bought the family company from their father in 2002. While the profit margin on some of the original tests isn’t large, the company continues to manufacture those products because if IMMY didn’t make them, no one would.
The Bauman brothers are humanitarians who have traveled to some of the nations where their products have the most impact, even adopting children from Third World nations.
The brothers and their staff take pride in making products that save lives, Scott Bauman said.
IMMY is a high-end employer, bringing in a number of jobs for Ph.D.s, chemical engineers and microbiologists. The company works closely with the University of Oklahoma to recruit talent.
It is also working to establish a relationship with the Moore Norman Technology Center as the numbers of mid-range salary jobs grow with the company.
While IMMY’s products saves lives worldwide, 70 percent of the company’s market share is in the United States. Tests for respiratory diseases in the Mississippi-Ohio River Valley gave IMMY a big market bump, as did the test for another respiratory disease, Valley Fever, which is endemic to in Arizona and southern California.
In 2007, that growth spurred the company to move from its initial location into the Norman Business Park on State Highway 9 on the east side of town.
In 2010, Sean Bauman traveled to Africa. Persons with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to certain diseases, one of which is a disease that causes fungal meningitis.
IMMY’s legacy tests — the products developed by Scott and Sean’s father, Stan Bauman — require refrigeration. But in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where thousands die each year of the disease, cost-prohibitive products that have to be refrigerated aren’t going to get to many people.
Sean Bauman conceived of the idea of creating a test that would be used and read on a strip, much like a standard home pregnancy test. It would be easy to use, low cost to manufacture and ship, and low cost to sell to clinics in Africa and in impoverished nations where the need was greatest.
Sean Bauman’s idea worked. Now those strips are being shipped globally.
“We can catch it (cryptococcosis) before it’s meningitis,” Scott Bauman said. “More people die of this disease than car wrecks. It’s the third largest killer of AIDs patients — it causes about 400,000 orphans in Africa each year.”
Cryptococcal infection is also a cause of invasive fungal infection in solid organ transplant recipients, according to the Medical Laboratory Observer, which did a story on IMMY’s test strips in March.
Now, IMMY has done it again, with its Myco DDR reagent set, which enables labs to obtain a more sensitive and specific diagnosis for tuberculosis.
The chemicals in the Myco DDR reagents treat specimens to make the detection of TB easier and more reliable. The Myco DDR will be primarily marketed to the Western world initially, but IMMY is in the process of developing a version that will be less expensive and will be ideal for use in Third World countries.
The TB tests have expanded IMMY’s market and require more space for manufacturing.
When IMMY moved into its current location in the Norman Business park, the building was bigger than they needed at the time. The Bauman brothers were forward thinking and planned to grow into those new digs.
Now, the company has outgrown its current location, and the UNP business park has the space the growing company needs.
“We are looking at potentially 100 percent growth in the next year,” Scott Bauman said.
IMMY receives grants to facilitate the work it does with organizations like the CDC, but in many cases, IMMY is invited to participate in those grants because IMMY’s research is needed.
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