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NEWS OF THE WEEK
BUSINESS
March 4, 2002
Volume 80, Number 9
CENEAR 80 9 p. 13
ISSN 0009-2347
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INFORMEX INFORMS CHEMICAL INDUSTRY
Custom chemicals makers shrug off economic woes at big trade show

MICHAEL MCCOY

Ignoring a downturn in the custom chemicals industry, several companies attending the Informex custom chemicals trade show in New Orleans last week announced new projects and initiatives. Biotechnology and chiral chemistry for pharmaceutical chemicals production were common themes.

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Shaw
8009nick_hyde
Hyde
The biggest investment news came from Avecia, which announced plans to build a $100 million facility in Billingham, England, to produce microbially derived biologics. The first stage of the project is due to open in 2003, adding 10,000 L of capacity for therapeutic proteins. Another 30,000 L will be added by 2005, making the plant the largest purpose-built unit of its kind in the world, Avecia says.

Biotechnology firm Maxygen chose Informex to announce the establishment of a wholly owned chemicals subsidiary, Codexis, which supplies biocatalytic processes for making chiral pharmaceutical intermediates and active ingredients. The move is a first step toward complete independence for the subsidiary, Maxygen executives said.

Alan Shaw, president of Codexis, vowed to expand the company's offerings beyond gene evolution technology to actual products, including biocatalyst libraries and, eventually, pharmaceutical ingredients made through a manufacturing alliance with a firm in India.

A Codexis rival, Diversa, launched its own library of nitrilase enzymes for the manufacture of chiral pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. Mark J. Burk, Diversa's vice president of chemical product development, said the hundreds of enzymes in the line will enable reactions for which no known organic or inorganic catalyst is now available.

The news at Informex wasn't all about biotechnology, however. In the field of chiral catalysis, Avecia announced the formation of a relationship with Synetix Chiral Technologies to develop new immobilized catalysts for transfer hydrogenation and cyanohydrin chemistry.

Nick Hyde, vice president of Avecia Pharmaceuticals, said continued investment in unique technology is one of the reasons Avecia enjoyed 40% growth in sales of fine chemicals last year in a market that was disappointing for many firms.

Regis Technologies, a midsized pharmaceutical chemical firm in Morton Grove, Ill., announced plans to triple capacity through construction of a facility on land just purchased adjacent to its existing plant. Six production suites will be added by 2003, according to Dave McCleary, director of business development.

In the field of phosgene chemistry, Sigma-Aldrich Fine Chemicals said it is boosting phosgenation capabilities to the 2,000-gal scale in Sheboygan, Wis. SNPE, meanwhile, said some operations at its Toulouse, France, plant--forced to shut down last year in the wake of an explosion at a neighboring facility--would restart by the end of March, but that phosgene-based processes would be idle until the end of the year. SNPE is supplying customers from other plants.

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