Five minutes at CPhI worldwide with …
CO/PH: How is business going at VIO Chemicals?
Dimitrios Kalias: At VIO Chemicals we are restless. We want to offer high quality, safe and sustainable products to our clients and this is why we invest in our scientists, state-of-the-art equipment and novel technologies.
Our story goes back to 2001, the foundation year of VIO Chemicals. Back then, we employed 5 people only and developed intermediates for non-pharmaceutical applications and advanced material for electronic devices and water treatment technology. Today, just over 15 years later, we employ approximately 160 people at 3 different locations, Switzerland, Greece and China, and have developed a portfolio of nearly 2.500 products which we deliver to over 20 European countries, all over the Americas and Asia.
Our growth did not happen overnight. Slowly, but steadily over the years, we increased our business in China and set up a representative office in Nanjing in 2002. Three years later, in 2005, our first production unit at the chemical zone of Binhai, in Jiangsu province, was fully operational. Today, we own three units for the production of intermediates, one complying with GMP standards.
2016, was a very important milestone for VIO Chemicals, as we set up our own R&D centre in Thessaloniki, Greece. We chose to found our R&D hub in Greece because of the very high scientific output and innovation level compared to China, as well as the low development costs compared against other European countries. All processes are developed at the R&D centre. Once the process is developed, a dedicated team manages the technology transfer, upscale and implementation at our manufacturing plant in Binhai or in third parties. The centre currently employs a highly-skilled team of 35, namely 15 scientists working in chemical synthesis, 10 in analytical research and development and another 10 in quality assurance, regulatory affairs and intellectual property issues.
Our manufacturing conforms to regulatory and quality standards, according to EU, US and ICH cGMP requirements, and complies strictly with local health, safety and environmental policies and regulations. In addition, as our business serves mainly the US, European and Japanese markets, we take intellectual property very seriously and we make sure our activities do not infringe third party IP rights and existing patents. Our priority is to place our customers’ product in a protective environment and use IP solutions strategically for greater flexibility and competitiveness.
CO/PH: What drives your production in China? Only costs?
DK: Cost is very important, indeed, and initially tax incentives were our main driver. But this is not the case anymore. Nowadays, our main driver is the availability of raw materials, and China is in possession of a vast territory with an abundance of raw materials as a source of input for its large manufacturing industry.
Nevertheless, this year there has been a decline in the availability of raw materials because many suppliers were not compliant with local environmental regulations. Although our business has been affected to some extent, we have managed to avoid any regulatory obstacles thanks to our proactive approach and investment in waste treatment technology. Being compliant with local health, safety and environmental regulations is imperative for our business and a major driver for our reliability towards our customers; they certainly do not want to see their products appear on any newspaper headline being associated with some chemical waste pollution.
CO/PH: What technological highlights make VIO Chemical special?
DK: In addition to the usual chemical technologies in our toolbox, lately we have developed and implemented asymmetric biocatalysis to expand our range of stereoselective options. We also have significant experience in the efficient production and purification of oils and liquids, assisted by our distillation and solvent recovery capabilities.
CO/PH: All with GMP?
DK: At VIO Chemicals, we have two non-GMP and one GMP-standard production unit. Their use depends on the steps involved in the pipeline. For example, for intermediates ISO-level manufacturing (non-GMP) is sufficient, but for the last critical steps we use our cleanroom at our GMP-standard unit.
CO/PH: Do you apply flow chemistry?
DK: Flow chemistry is one of the keywords for a brand new project we are launching next year, which will also use photochemistry. We developed the process in Greece, based on Bicyclo[1.1.1]pentane intermediates. I cannot disclose much more at the moment but I can tell you that the big pharma companies are very excited about this type of products.
CO/PH: What else can be expected in the future from VIO Chemicals?
DK: From a scientific point of view, our plan is to expand further on carbohydrate chemistry, where we have great expertise. At the same time, we are increasing our enzymatic asymmetric synthesis capabilities. Of course, we are still working with other catalytic systems, taking into account the exact chemistry on a case-by-case basis and the balance between the cost and the efficiency of the process. Speaking about markets, we wish to expand our services to emerging markets in need of new advanced proprietary products and serve more new regions across the world.
CO/PH: How did CPhI 2017 go?
DK: CPhI has been extremely busy for us! This year our focus was on our new products, namely intermediates, excipients and APIs, and so far, we have received very high interest and great level of response. On the occasion of CPhI, we also launched our brand new visual identity and website, where one can find a detailed description of our services and over 350 ready-to-order products for pharmaceutical and chemical applications.