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Brighter Prospects

After several dismal years, fine chemicals companies are seeing industry stabilization

by Lisa M. Jarvis
October 9, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 41

Bustling Business
Credit: Rick Mullin/C&EN
More than 22,000 visitors flooded the exhibition hall last week at CPhI.
Credit: Rick Mullin/C&EN
More than 22,000 visitors flooded the exhibition hall last week at CPhI.

It may have been gloomy in Paris last week, but inside the halls of CPhI, the European pharmaceutical ingredients conference, the clouds finally appeared to be parting. Attendees said business has stabilized, if not improved, for many fine chemicals firms. A healthier flow through the new drug pipeline is translating into more business for custom manufacturers, who are now able to make targeted investments to support growth.

"People are more optimistic, and it is not only a feeling," said Jans Ramakers, director of Jans Ramakers Fine Chemical Consulting Group in East Linton, Scotland. "There is still overcapacity in the market, but signs are a lot more positive than they've been for a while."

The improvement stems from two factors, said Rudolf Hanko, vice president of Degussa's exclusive synthesis business. Though productivity in the pharmaceutical industry still is not robust, the number of R&D projects is at least no longer dropping. Further, drug companies "no longer look at their fixed assets as a sacred cow," Hanko noted. Capacity shutdowns on their part are translating into more business for custom manufacturers.

The healthier environment was underscored by the series of investments announced at CPhI. Saltigo is spending more than $12 million to convert an existing plant in Leverkusen, Germany, into a multipurpose current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) facility for making active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and intermediates. The company expects four modular units with a combined capacity of more than 200 metric tons per year to open by mid-2007.

Archimica, the former Clariant contract manufacturing division acquired this year by TowerBrook Capital Partners, announced a $6 million investment in antiviral API manufacturing at its Sandycroft, U.K., and Origgio, Italy, facilities and a $1 million investment to manufacture a cognitive-enhancement API at its Springfield, Mo., plant. Ralf Pfirmann, business director, noted that the investments were approved by Archimica's new owners.

To support custom synthesis projects requiring asymmetric catalysis, Dow Chemical's Dowpharma unit has commissioned a homogeneous catalyst facility in Midland, Mich. The site, which started operations in the second quarter of this year, complements Dowpharma's catalyst research and production facilities in Cambridge, England.

Almac announced a $940,000 investment at its Craigavon, Northern Ireland, and Edinburgh, Scotland, sites for cGMP production of peptides. New synthesis and production technologies at Almac can yield peptides of up to 170 amino acids in length in clinical trial quantities, according to Denis Geffroy, European business manager.

Serge Plaue, managing director of SNPE's peptide business, NeoMPS, said his firm is investing $6 million to expand peptide capacity at its Strasbourg, France, facility by 2008.

New contracts also offered evidence of the uptick in pharma R&D. Ash Stevens was awarded two contracts from the National Cancer Institute worth a total of $12.4 million to support preclinical and clinical studies of small molecules. SAFC's pharma business unit was selected to provide chemical development services for BTG's investigational drug BGC20–1259.



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