Issue Date: June 28, 2010
Although developing new platinum-based cancer therapies is proving a risky endeavor, manufacturing bulk actives for the drugs already on the market is a steady business. Some Chinese and Indian generic drug firms make the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) themselves. But the European precious-metals providers Johnson Matthey, Heraeus, and Umicore are the leading platinum-based API producers.
When patents expire on oxaliplatin in three years, none of the three major platinum anticancer drugs—cisplatin, and carboplatin—will be patent protected worldwide, and new treatments would represent more lucrative business. For example, Heraeus, which makes platinum APIs at its plant in Hanau, Germany, has signed on as Poniard Pharmaceuticals' sole supplier of picoplatin. Although the future of picoplatin is uncertain, "there is a quite a stable basis for established generic products," says Michael Schwarz, head of Heraeus' pharmaceutical ingredients business.
Product volumes continue to grow, but prices have dropped as the market for generic platinum drugs expands. Heraeus estimates annual global API demand at 2.0 to 2.5 metric tons for carboplatin, 500 kg for cisplatin, and 200 kg for oxaliplatin. The German company has a global market share of more than 50%, Schwarz claims.
In 2009, Belgium's Umicore opened a plant in Argentina that can supply 50% of world demand and has space for new products. With 50% of the South American market already, Umicore has a goal of a 30% global share in several years. The approach of U.K.-based Johnson Matthey has been to supply proprietary drugs and to maintain a smaller presence in generics.
Because platinum prices fluctuate widely on metal markets, API suppliers typically separate the drug manufacturing cost and the platinum price for their customers. Vertical integration helps keep costs down, says Oliver Briel, marketing director at Umicore. Suppliers bring not only access to the precious metal, but also expertise in cost-saving metal recovery and in synthesizing cytotoxic metal-based compounds.
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