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Porton buys chemistry service firm J-Star

Deal is latest purchase of an independent U.S. research company

by Jean-François Tremblay
February 1, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 6

Credit: J-Star
J-Star operates contract research labs in South Plainfield, N.J.
A photo from J-Star’s labs in New Jersey.
Credit: J-Star
J-Star operates contract research labs in South Plainfield, N.J.

Porton Fine Chemicals, a Chinese pharmaceutical ingredients producer, has agreed to acquire the South Plainfield, N.J.-based contract research firm J-Star Research. The move is the latest in a spate of acquisitions of independent U.S. chemistry service organizations by larger firms.

Formed in 1996, J-Star employs 47 people, most of them Ph.D. chemists. Porton will pay up to $26 million for the firm, which is focused on early-phase clinical development of pharmaceutical chemicals. J-Star’s services encompass custom synthesis, process research, crystallization, and analytical services.

Porton launched in 2005 to supply custom intermediate chemicals, mostly to large international drug firms such as Johnson & Johnson. Porton employs 1,700 workers at three sites in China.

Porton recently opened a process development facility in Cranbury, N.J., that has about 15 employees. J-Star CEO Andrew Thompson says Porton plans to increase employment at the two New Jersey sites to up to 125 employees in total. The expansion will add services such as high-potency compound handling and antibody-drug conjugate synthesis, he says.

Porton’s deal for J-Star continues a trend of large pharmaceutical service firms acquiring independent U.S. providers of chemistry-related research and manufacturing services for the drug industry.

In January, China’s Pharmaron bought Xceleron, a U.S. supplier of mass spectroscopy technology. Last year, India’s Piramal Enterprises bought Ash Stevens, a Michigan-based contract manufacturer, and Cambrex acquired North Carolina-based PharmaCore. In 2015, Patheon purchased South Carolina’s Irix Pharmaceuticals.

J. Gregory Reid, head of the pharmaceutical chemistry consulting firm ChemDev Solutions, says the pharma services landscape in the U.S. is changing. “There was a generation of start-ups, and now an awful lot of them have been acquired,” he says. But the industry continues to be competitive, Reid adds, and more companies will be created by entrepreneurial scientists.


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