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Small molecules hold sway at DCAT Week

Annual event showcases chemistry’s strength despite the growth of biologics

by Rick Mullin
March 21, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 12


The Drug, Chemical, & Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) Week, an annual meeting for the pharmaceutical services sector and the drug companies it serves, has dispersed to several New York City locations now that its traditional home, the Waldorf Astoria New York, is under renovation. But the bustle of conference talks and private meetings culminating in a black-tie dinner on March 21 has lost none of its intensity, nor its focus.

A photo of drug manufacturing at Cerbios.
Credit: Cerbios
Cerbios is investing in highly potent drug actives at its site in Lugano, Switzerland.

The same might be said for the sector, which in recent years has seen contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) add nonchemistry services such as biologics and final-dose formulation to their traditional business of synthesizing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Investments announced at DCAT Week make clear that small-molecule drug production is still central.

Cambrex epitomizes the expanding CDMO. The US company recently acquired Avista Pharma Solutions, an early-stage drug development firm, and Halo Pharma, a finished-dose drug contractor, for almost $700 million combined. But Shawn Cavanaugh, Cambrex’s chief operating officer, says the company remains a small-molecule stalwart. “We’ve integrated service offerings across the small-molecule platform,” he said at a March 18 forum that launched the event.

The Swiss giant Lonza is also investing heavily in chemistry. It’s two years into a three-year, $100 million program centered on expanding highly potent oncology drug production, according to Lee Newton, head of API development and manufacturing. “There is a growing demand for high-containment facilities for the production of highly potent APIs,” he said.

Seqens, the contract services division of Novacap, is targeting oncology with a $30 million investment in highly potent API production near Paris as a client advances a compound to Phase III clinical trials.

And the Swiss CDMO Cerbios said it is investing $5.5 million in highly potent API production. It’s also finishing up a $2.5 million investment in a suite where it will put together antibody-drug conjugates.

Other firms at DCAT announced investments in producing and packaging biologic drugs. Lonza itself is quite active in biologics, but Newton stated his allegiance to the chemistry side of the business. “Small molecules have never really gone out of fashion,” he said.


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