Many people talk about their passion for their business, but when Cliff Giese expounds on his passion for BioMS Medical Corp. and the development of its lead drug to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), it comes straight from the heart.

The Edmonton entrepreneur made his mark as founder and builder of the Mr. Lube fast oil-change chain but, from a personal perspective, nothing could compare to his current role as chairman of BioMS.

Giese was inspired to found BioMS in 2001 through years of witnessing first-hand the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis on his wife Robin, who has suffered from the disease since 1977, and then seeing Robin's positive response to the experimental drug that is currently being developed by the company. Giese's brother and longtime business partner, Kevin Giese, is chief executive officer of Edmonton-based BioMS and his son Ryan Giese is vice-president of corporate communications.

BioMS has progressed the drug, known as MBP8298, to pivotal Phase II/Phase III clinical trials in Canada and Europe, and is currently enrolling patients with the secondary progressive form of MS for Phase III trials as it strives for the ultimate goal of regulatory approval to market the drug.

Jack Dagley, Business Edge
BioMS chairman Clifford Giese has seen the profound progress his wife has made fighting multiple sclerosis.

The odds are stacked against biotech companies in getting their products to market, but Giese likes the chances of BioMS getting approval to market its drug, based on the progress he has seen Robin make during nine years on the drug.

Giese is clearly a man on a mission.

1. Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment?

"My dad (Arnold Giese) was in the welding business. He had a fabricating shop and a little hardware store. I learned a good work ethic from my dad. He was successful and I saw what rewards you can get with success. Certainly, he motivated me in my life."

2. What was your first job as a stockbroker like?

"It was great. You learn a lot about responsibility, you learn how to deal with people and you learn to take rewards and mistakes."

3. How did you come up with the idea for Mr. Lube in 1976?

"I was a broker at the time and one day I went to pick my dad up for lunch. He asked me if we could pick up his car at the shop where he was having the oil changed, because they told him it would be ready by noon. Well, it wasn't ready. As we were sitting over lunch, we said, 'This is not right, this is not that tough of a job.' I put a little business plan on paper, I got my dad to buy into it and we started the first Mr. Lube. At the time, there was really nobody doing it (fast oil changes). The plan was to have a building that had multiple bays to service your cars with a pit so you don't have to use hoists and then market the hell out of it to try and make it work. We had all 18 major brands of oil, we had no appointments so we could get away from the experience my dad had and we tried to make it a fast service. We had to buy a piece of land and build a building, so I would think the first building in Edmonton cost around $150,000."

4. Was it pretty well an instant success?

"You know something? Once we started marketing, it was a success. And then we opened another store in Edmonton with our cashflow. In 1987, I had 45 stores open and another 200 under construction and I sold it to Imperial Oil. I sold it because I just thought it was the right time. One thing I've always learned about business is that timing is always very crucial. Imperial Oil liked the business. At that time, we were also doing a deal with Exxon and taking the concept to the States. I went to the U.S. for a few years and opened up 17 stores in the States on Exxon properties. Then, we sold it to Jiffy Lube. It was just a hard business to manage from Canada and I wasn't prepared to move. Eventually, I participated in the buyback of Mr. Lube. We own the Edmonton stores from a franchisee point of view and I also own part of the franchisor company. This year, we'll do over $100 million in sales across Canada."

5. What did that business teach you about what works in business?

"When we were in that business, I'm sure I heard people saying dozens of times, 'Gee, I kind of thought of that.' But there's a difference between thinking and doing. And, you know, when you get an idea, there's a distinct difference in the people that will take an idea, invest in it and stick with it. If I believe it and am willing to put my money behind it, then I'd also better be willing to do the work that is required to make it work. My successes in life have been where I've rolled up my sleeves and got involved. As a passive investor, I don't do all that well. You're not always going to be successful, but if I get involved in a business I'm going to give it my best shot."

6. Can you talk about how you became involved in research for multiple sclerosis?

"My wife (Robin) got MS at an early age. She got it at the age of 28. It's a devastating disease, not only for the person afflicted but for the whole family. She was a young mother with two children and the prospects for the life ahead of her were not very good. It became a mission for both of us to find something and, as luck would have it, I was aware of a product (MBP8298) being worked on at the University of Alberta and Robin got on one of the trials (in 1996). I'll never forget the day she told me she felt different."

7. Was that soon after she started taking the product?

"That was probably only about three weeks after she took the first (intravenous) shot. I said, 'Holy mackerel.' When it worked on her, then I guess my past experience as an investment dealer came into play. In business, you always want to have inside information. Well, that was inside information to me. I knew there was something that worked, at least on one person. It worked on Robin so well that it changed her life and our whole family's life. MS is something that affects the whole family and, when she felt better, we all felt better. She is still taking it."

8. So what did you do then?

"Our family, being my brother (Kevin Giese) and my son (Ryan Giese) decided that we would financially support the project at the University of Alberta. After we looked at it, we decided to make it a public venture (BioMS) and to date we've raised just under $100 million towards the project. We've been successful in getting it into its final phase of development (Phase III of clinical trials) and we're in active enrolment of patients right now for the trials in Canada and Europe."

9. How is Robin doing now in her fight against MS?

"It's a hold pattern. That's the best you can do. When your damage is done, it's done. I liken the product, MBP8298, to insulin to a diabetic. It has stabilized the disease where she's at. She's in a wheelchair. She's been in a wheelchair for a lot of years. Obviously, you wish she could get out. But that isn't what it does. What it does is control the disease and, in her case, it takes away the fatigue factor. And it has allowed her to live the best life she could in the condition that she's in. We used to take winter vacations in Palm Desert (California) and Hawaii. But that became exceedingly difficult because of the fatigue factor that Robin was experiencing. I remember thinking before she started taking MBP8298 whether we would be able to get away to those places. But now it's not as difficult for her to travel and we now own homes in Palm Desert and Hawaii."

10. Obviously, this is much different and much more personal than any other business you've been involved in. What's it been like for you personally watching the development of something that cuts so close to the heart?

"Oh, if we get this one, which I believe we will, this will be the best thing I've ever done. I mean, this is something really to be proud of. You can always do business deals, but with this one here you're going to help a lot of people. And we're really motivated to get there."

11. It takes a long time to develop a drug and get it to market. Is this testing your patience a bit?

"Well, it's probably the toughest thing I've ever done. One thing about normal business situations is that you have a little more control than you do with medical research. There's a lot of research, a lot of work and a lot of testing before it can go into the human body. And that's all time-consuming. MS is not a fast-moving disease. Therefore, it takes years to see changes and all those changes have to be monitored. In most business situations that you're in you can react a little faster and make things happen faster. You just can't push science. It's going to take its time. And that is probably a bit frustrating, at least from my point of view, because to me, it (business) is 'pitter patter let's get at 'er'. But in this case you've just got to wait and let it take its course. Eventually, it'll get there. If you rush it, you always have the chance of making a mistake."

12. What's the earliest timeline in terms of when this product could be on the market?

"Probably three years. Our next step is to get to full enrolment (for the clinical trials). We're in the process of enrolling patients every day now. Once that is done, then it's a two-year trial. After that, you start analysing the data."

13. Do you have plans for developing the product in the U.S.?

"We're working on a U.S. strategy. We'll announce something in the first part of the new year about what (it) is."

14. Is BioMS in negotiations with prospective pharmaceutical partners to market the product?

"There's always tire-kickers. They're coming to us. But I think we're good enough businessmen to wait for the right situation. One thing we are fortunate enough to have is a big enough bank account. In this game you want to make sure you have the money you need to fulfil the plans you're embarking upon. As long as you do that and, if you've got a winner, you've got a chance of being a huge, huge success. We believe we've got the goods. Once we confirm that, I think it could be one of the biggest drugs that's ever been found in Alberta and probably Canada."

15. What message would you want to convey to people with MS about the prospects of your company being able to help them in the future?

"You know, you've got to keep the faith and you've got to keep your body as good as you can. This stuff works. And it's going to work on a good percentage of MS patients and it's going to change their lives. And I wish I could give it to everybody today. I really do. But you just can't. We're doing the best job we can. I believe we've got the goods. I know one person it's helping and I know 29 others that it's helping (besides Robin Giese, 29 others have been on the product at the University of Alberta). And the potential (worldwide) market out there is probably hundreds of thousands of patients. We've had all the patients that you could need (applying for the trials). There are people from various countries around the world who have heard about the trials and they've offered to move to Canada to be in the trial. So anybody who's got the disease is looking for an answer."

16. How has Robin influenced your life?

"She was obviously the prettiest girl I'd ever seen and I married her. And we had two wonderful children and she certainly has done a good job of looking after the children when I was away at work. While I was working a lot, she was always there looking after things, making sure the home was right and the children were raised right. Subsequently, our children were married and now we have grandchildren who she gets to spoil also. Certainly, she's a large influence in the family."

17. What's it like working at BioMS alongside your brother Kevin as CEO?

"Kevin and I were also in business together with Mr. Lube and it's great working with him as it is with my son Ryan. (Laughing) Kevin's younger, so he gets to do all the work while I talk on the phone."

18. Reflecting on your career in business, to what do you attribute your success?

"If I believe that something can be done, I certainly try to understand the situation. I don't think I go too far off base. I don't think I'm a person that takes some little gadget and thinks that it'll work.

"If it's a good sound principle and I believe that it can be worked, I like to do what I call a 360, looking at it all the way around in my own mind. And if I come up thinking that it's probably got a chance, then I'll get a napkin and start working on it and see if it's got some merit."

19. What's your most difficult challenge as an entrepreneur?

"The problem with a lot of things is that they're very time-consuming. It's easy to come up with ideas but sometimes the execution is a lot longer than you want it to be. But I do believe I have some tenacity and some reasonable business insight. And I've been willing to put in the amount of effort required in the few successes that I've had."

20. How will you and Robin celebrate if and when BioMS gets its lead product for MS to market?

"We've got the life that we enjoy right now. It's not going to change. The important thing is the good feeling that we'll have, the feeling that you've done something really important in your life that will change people's lives."

Cliff Giese

* Title: Chairman, BioMS Medical Corp.

* Born/raised/age: Edmonton/ 58.

* Family: Wife Robin, two children.

* Education: Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), business diploma.

* First Job: Stockbroker, Midland Doherty (now Merrill Lynch).

* Entrepreneurial Pursuits: Giese was working as a stockbroker in 1976 when he founded Mr. Lube. As president of Mr. Lube, Giese spearheaded growth of the company into Canada's largest chain of quick oil-change shops. In 1986, he sold the rights to Mr. Lube to Imperial Oil, but was part of a team of investors that reacquired the company in 1999. He now is a shareholder of the company and owns the Edmonton franchises. In 2001, Giese founded BioMS Medical Corp. of which he is now chairman.

* Family Ties: Giese's son Ryan is vice-president of corporate communications at BioMS and his brother Kevin is president and chief executive officer.

* Pastime: Golf.

BioMS Medical Corp

* Brass: Kevin Giese, president/CEO; Cliff Giese, chairman; Don Kimak, chief financial officer.

* Profile: BioMS Medical, founded in 2001, is a biotechnology company featuring a lead product that is being developed for treatment of multiple sclerosis. Known as MBP8298, the product has been licensed from the University of Alberta and has reached pivotal Phase II/Phase III clinical trials. The company is also developing two other products.

* Lead Product: MBP8298 is a synthetic peptide comprised of 17 amino acids and is the product of 26 years of research.

* Stats: MS is a disease of the central nervous system believed to affect 2.5 million people worldwide, including 50,000 Canadians.

* Stock Price (TSX:MS): $2.79 (52-week range, $2.35-$5).

* Website: www.biomsmedical.com

* Office: 6030 88th St., Edmonton, T6E 6G4.

* Phone/Fax: (780) 413-7152/408-3040.

(Gyle Konotopetz can be reached at gyle@businessedge.ca)