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Rebound Awaited In Fine Chemicals

Custom Chemicals: Recession over, pharmaceutical chemical producers seek an uptick in business

by Ann M. Thayer
October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

Credit: Ann Thayer/C&EN
The promise of new business lured CPhI attendees to Paris.
Credit: Ann Thayer/C&EN
The promise of new business lured CPhI attendees to Paris.

The custom and fine chemicals industry is in a post-recessionary lull, and business is returning at a slower pace than many executives had hoped for. At CPhI Worldwide, the annual pharmaceutical ingredients conference, held last week in Paris, attendees said that tough economic times caused many customers to cancel or postpone early-stage drug development projects and that orders are only slowly starting to return.

The custom-manufacturing business is moving into positive territory, said Gilles A. Cottier, president of Sigma-Aldrich’s SAFC business. “But funding for biotech and other customers is not yet where it should be,” he said. Strong, even double-digit, growth continues for those firms that can offer new technologies and differentiated capabilities, he added.

One such area is highly potent compound manufacturing, which was the subject of several announcements at CPhI, mostly about project completions. SAFC has finished a $29 million expansion of its high-potency fermentation facility in Jerusalem. The site will supply proteins and small molecules that can be conjugated to antibodies at the company’s new Wisconsin facility.

Similarly, Piramal Healthcare has increased capacity for making antibody-drug conjugates in Grangemouth, Scotland. The site there will support the commercial production of an undisclosed U.S. biotech firm’s new cancer treatment, expected to launch in 2011. Seeing what he called “clear signs of recovery,” Gerhard F. Klement, director of Piramal’s Pharma Solutions business, was among the more upbeat executives at the show.

For its high-potency business, Ash Stevens has completed a new materials-handling facility in Riverview, Mich., and the company has further reactor capacity expansions planned for the next few years. Likewise, Helsinn plans to expand manufacturing in Biasca, Switzerland, with an investment in new technology for cytotoxic drug production, according to Business Development Director Waldo Mossi.

Potent compounds, as well as generics, are growth areas for Cambrex, CEO Steven M. Klosk reported. Although the industry overall is “not yet booming,” Klosk said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that things are changing for the better. Nevertheless, with fewer projects and intensified competition, he believes there is room for consolidation in the custom chemical industry.



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