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February 20, 2006
Volume 84, Number 8
p. 6


High-Tech Push For Custom Firms

Custom chemical makers at Informex look to biotechnology to expand their offerings

Ann Thayer, Rick Mullin, and Lisa Jarvis


At the Informex custom chemical exhibition in Orlando, Fla., last week, several announcements confirmed the industry's push into biotechnology and other specialized areas that are high-tech, fast growing, and-Western companies hope-insulated from emerging Asian competitors.

Much of the news was in biocatalysis. DSM Pharma Chemicals said it has joined with the German biocatalysis technology firm IEP to discover and develop biocatalytic replacements for traditional chemical syntheses. IEP will screen biocatalysts to achieve the targeted result, after which DSM will scale up the processes to make active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and intermediates.

PCAS, a French fine chemicals supplier, and the biotech company Protéus have formed PCAS Biosolution. The venture will combine the partners' intellectual property and capabilities for synthesizing APIs, intermediates, and building blocks using chemo-biocatalytic routes. "Customers will benefit from all the value drivers of integrating biocatalysis into chemical processes," said PCAS Chairman Christian Moretti.

Both BASF and Degussa, meanwhile, plan to make their biocatalysis expertise more available outside their companies. BASF uses biocatalysis internally for producing chiral compounds. BASF will now offer its customers services in biocatalysis screening, optimization, scale-up, and production, said John Banger, the firm's manager for new business development in chemicals. BASF also announced an expansion of its enzyme development alliance with the biotechnology firm Diversa.

Similarly, Degussa has folded its Biocatalysis Service Center, which came out of its Project House Biotechnology new business development effort, into the firm's Exclusive Synthesis & Catalysis business unit. The center is a service provider for industrial biotransformations, including biocatalyst screening and optimization, process design, and pilot-plant production, said Joe Principe, director of business development.

Degussa is also trying to reduce its costs, and at Informex it announced a long-term, nonexclusive production cooperation with the Indian fine chemicals firm Hikal. Principe said the deal, which covers advanced intermediates and APIs, combines Hikal's advantaged cost base with Degussa's know-how.

Dowpharma, meanwhile, announced that Viventia Biotech will use its Pfenex expression technology, based on specially modified strains of Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria, to obtain up to six antibody-based therapeutic compounds. Viventia is the first customer to use the technology for this purpose. While Pfenex was initially developed to compete with Escherichia coli-based systems, the license agreement with Viventia highlights Pfenex's ability to express products "that are not possible or economically viable with other microbial systems," said Nick Hyde, Dowpharma's global business director.

Reaxa, a developer of catalyst encapsulation and scavenger resin technologies, revealed plans to launch Reaxa Biotech. According to Reaxa CEO Peter Jackson, the new company will channel Reaxa's strengths in polymer-drug conjugation, solid-phase synthesis, drug immobilization, and controlled-release polymer technologies. Plans are to raise $6 million to fund the new venture, Jackson said. Reaxa itself was formed just a year ago as a joint venture between Avecia and Cambridge University.

These high-tech ventures were announced as Western company executives in attendance at Informex were still digesting two recent announcements: the sale of Avecia Pharmaceuticals to India's Nicholas Piramal India Ltd. and the pending sale of Rhodia's custom chemical business to Shasun Chemicals & Drugs, also of India. Michael J. Fernandes, executive director of Nicholas Piramal's custom manufacturing group, said that his firm's goal is to become one of the top three players in the custom services market.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society