Five minutes with…
Markus Blocher, Ph.D., CEO, Dottikon Exclusive Synthesis AG
Chemistry Today: How is the market going for DOTTIKON and what directions are driving it?
Blocher: We have a lot of backwind from the pharma side. A lot of new APIs were approved in the US in the last three years and we assume about 55 new approvals for API this year. There were rumours about price regulation in the US but so far, it is still a fairly free market. Although pharma is experiencing some pressure from the distributers, which have gained purchasing power due to consolidation. There is also a lot of risk capital flowing into the biotech industry. Our strength lies in in supporting clients reliable in their fast track approval projects: this requires profound process development skills and a versatile technology portfolio, due to higher quality requirements and shorter lead times to tune the chemistry for the manufacturing process. DOTTIKON spends about 10% of net sales for R&D. Almost like a pharma company.
CT: Do you use flow chemistry?
Blocher: Flow chemistry is an interesting concept and part of our technology portfolio. It is the manufacturing concept of large-scale chemical commodities and became a hype about ten years ago in the pharma. To the point that, for some companies, flow has become a sort of religion: if you do something flow, you get the money from the management. We had discussions where customers wanted to do flow for flow’s sake, but we believe it is our duty to tell them, if it is not the best economic solution. Our impression is, that the flow hype has already passed the climax. In the beginning, many thought that flow is cheap and easy, however you must be aware, that you need pumps, tubular reactors, mixers, feed tanks, online analytics and so on. A flow reaction set up on production scale is almost a monoplant: it is quite specific and dedicated, therefore difficult to have a high utilization, on less you need hundreds of tons. In some cases it can be very economical also on smaller scale, e.g. when you have definite safety issues due to very exothermic reactions in the batch mode or selectivity issues to be overcome by kinetic reaction control.
When we do flow, we generally go for tubular flow reactors instead of microreactors. Doing process intensification, you often get heterogeneous systems, and in microreactors clogging becomes a problem. For the setup we have our modular approach, originally inspired by Christian Ewers idea of a modular approach to pharma production, i.e. building flow plants by combining independent modules. Feed tanks, pumps, cooling systems, mixers as modules on racks that can be used in various setups. We put this concept successfully into practice for some development projects.
CT: On which other technical innovations are you betting?
Blocher: Our technology core is built around hazardous reactions, high-pressure, low-temperature, and continuous processing. Of course, we are doing a lot of other chemistries, too. Homogeneous catalysis, C-C couplings etc. are becoming more present in the synthesis as molecules become ever more complex. Nowadays, over 80% of small molecule APIs contain nitrogen, on average about 2.4 nitrogens per molecule. If you want to introduce nitrogen into an APIs you need hazardous reactions, e.g. nitration, azid or HCN chemistry. Around our hazardous reaction technology portfolio, we have established a proprietary, very cost-competitive enantioselective way to get access to various novel unnatural aminoacids. Small-scale distribution is done in collaboration with Bachem, Switzerland.
CT: Very interesting but it sounds dangerous. How do you think safety?
Blocher: As specialist for hazardous reactions it our competence not to do dangerous things. It is about gathering safety-critical data and having a profound process risk understanding. It is important to know what you cannot and should not do. It is always about appropriate and steady reduction of the probability of occurrence and the impact of possible incident.
CT: What else is in DOTTIKON’s company culture?
Blocher: Well, we set on performance leadership and an integrated one-site strategy, in Dottikon, Switzerland. This allows us to have less internal interfaces, short and direct communication and decision lines. To support that, we only hire people that speak German. This setup allows us to focus fully on the interface to the customer and create value by understanding what the customer’s needs are and solving his problems. It is about bringing the customer’s strategy to success by being a reliable strategic development and manufacturing partner. This requires an in-depth understanding the strategy and, in it, the key success factors where Dottikon can contribute to success. Now, when a customer comes and asks for something, what they ask is not necessarily what they need. It is of utmost importance to have an open and critical discussion on what the customer really needs and to clarify the goals that the customer wants to achieve. That is how we generate more value for our customers than our competitors.
CT: What can Dottikon offer that no one else can do?
Blocher: We have clear technology and performance focus. We are a pure player in the custom manufacturing arena for pharma. We do innovative APIs under strict confidence, with no competition from generics. We have a specific one-site strategy, with deeply back-integrated services: we have integrated companies who build instruments for the safety labs, the high-pressure screenings as an example. The customer can be assured to have reliable quantity, quality, safety, efficient and effective costs structure and most importantly someone who will support them to be successful in their strategy.