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Pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals

by Rudy Baum,
September 24, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 39

THIS WEEK'S ISSUE is C&EN's annual pharmaceuticals issue, timed to coincide with CPhI, the annual conference on pharmaceutical ingredients. CPhI will be held the first week in October in Milan, Italy.

Pharmaceutical ingredients and the fine and custom chemicals companies that manufacture them are important components of the total package of news and information on the chemical enterprise that C&EN provides each week. C&EN is sending a sizable contingent to cover CPhI: Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer, who wrote two of the three stories on tuberculosis that constitute this week's package of cover stories (see pages 21 and 34); Senior Editor Rick Mullin, who wrote this week's CPhI preview (see page 49); Associate Editor Lisa Jarvis; and me. There will be a lot to cover, with almost 1,500 exhibiting companies from 58 countries and more than 22,000 attendees expected.

In his preview, Mullin points out that going into CPhI, the custom pharmaceutical chemical business "has a solid year of recovery under its belt" since a slump that began in 2000. He also notes that under pressure from Asian competitors, the industry is becoming "slightly more high tech."

"One thing that is not likely to have changed at this year's CPhI," Mullin writes, "is concern among Western suppliers about competition from Asia, particularly from Indian companies. Little takes place in fine chemicals outside the context of global competition. In fact, several firms acknowledge that their high-tech specialization moves are calculated to give them a leg up on low-cost Asian suppliers." The technologies aren't new—including simulated moving-bed chromatography, supercritical fluid chemistry, and microreactors—but their acceptance by custom manufacturers is a welcome sign of progress.

The stories on tuberculosis are also welcome news about the pharmaceutical industry, which has had its share of bad press in recent years. The industry is participating in efforts to get existing drugs to TB sufferers in developing nations. It's also working to develop new treatments for TB and a vaccine to prevent it. Financial return on this work is unlikely to be large because, as Thayer writes, the hardest hit areas are in the developing world.

TB is a terrible disease. Thayer points out that TB kills about 1.6 million people annually, making it the second-ranked infectious cause of death worldwide after HIV/AIDS. It's also the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV. TB was once thought largely under control, and drug and vaccine R&D for it waned in the mid-20th century. Incidences of TB shot up in the 1980s, in part because of the HIV pandemic, and multiple-drug-resistant strains of the mycobacterium emerged.

Nations, nongovernmental organizations, and philanthropies provide much of the funding behind efforts to get existing drugs to TB sufferers and for R&D on new drugs, but big pharma is also playing a role. Eli Lilly & Co., for example, has committed $120 million since 2003 to increase the affordable supply and promote proper use of two TB drugs. GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Novartis, and Cumbre Pharmaceuticals are among the industrial partners in the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development; its goal is having a new TB drug on the market by 2010.

One would think that straightforward diagnostic tests would exist for a disease as prevalent and as dangerous as TB. But as the article by Assistant Editor Carmen Drahl in this week's package of cover stories points out, that's not the case for a number of reasons (see page 39). "Ideally, TB diagnostics for the developing world should quickly and accurately detect all forms of infection, as well as identify drug resistance," Drahl writes, examining a variety of efforts to develop such tests.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one other story in this week's issue that concerns the fine chemicals industry: Mullin's review of the book "Fine Chemicals: The Industry and the Business" by Peter Pollak, a longtime participant in and observer of the industry. Pollak was a member of C&EN's Advisory Board in 2004-07. Mullin's review indicates that Pollak has written the definitive guide to this important segment of the chemical enterprise.

Thanks for reading.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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