Five minutes at Informex with
PH: The Fine Chemistry Services group was going to be sold and then wasn’t. What happened?
Martin: About a year ago, Albemarle put it on the market with a public announcement. At the end of 14 months, we decided it was worth more to keep it than to sell it based on what we saw in the market at the time; we weren’t seeing the value we thought it was worth. Our Fine Chemistry Services group is one of four global business units for Albemarle. We’re continuing to give great value to the company every day and are operating fairly independently in the new GBU structure that replaced our matrix organisation.
PH: How’s business for FCS this year?
Martin: Good, we have a good, strong pipeline and we see opportunities. The non-pharma business used to be mainly ag but there has been a lot of consolidation in ag. Fortunately for our business, we diversified into pharma before all that happened. Pharma is growing the most rapidly in the US, followed by electronic materials from start-up companies, mainly in displays and OLEDs.
PH: What’s driving the growth in pharma – simply customers wanting manufacturing in the US?
Martin: Where we are also seeing strong growth is in regulatory starting materials (RSMs). Recently, there has been an increased interest in RSM sources in the Western world. We’re seeing a good deal of enquiries from that. There are worries about impurity profiles, and the FDA is putting more scrutiny on. It’s easier to manage that through a Western source. We do a lot of this at our non-pharma facility in Tyrone, Pennsylvania.
PH: What else is happening for you in pharma?
Martin: There is still a lot of innovation going on and a lot of NDAs, Phase II and III products in the pipeline, much of it on the US East and West Coasts. The good news is that about 75% of the products in Phase III are small molecule. In Phase I, it’s about 50-50, so biologics are getting some traction but most of what will be commercialised in the next through years is small molecule. A lot of the companies Wall Street calls ‘biotechs’ are actually small pharma companies doing small molecules. For a while, everyone felt you had to do both but we know what we’re especially good at and that’s organic chemistry.
PH: What unusual capabilities do you have?
Martin: Right now, we can do some unique things, like ultra-low vacuum distillations. This is a very enabling technology, it allows you to do some things where you used to think you had to crystallise a product and dry it out, you can distil, then cast or flake it, which makes it simpler and faster. It goes with the continuous theme. We can do it through a single pass or through fractional distillation, depending on how much purity you need. We see a lot of value in that and are converting some processes to it. It’s not a very well-known tool, so we’re in the process of introducing the idea to customers and showing them how we can partner with them in this way.