Five minutes at Informex with
Phillip Chalabi, general manager of Umicore Precious Metals Chemistry USA
PH: Are chemocatalysts based on precious metal chemistry still the core of Umicore’s pharma business?
Chalabi: Yes, they are. Umicore’s roots go back many years. We are a global corporation with over 13,000 employees worldwide. The North American subsidiary that I am responsible for saw that there were many opportunities to expand the market here, so we made the decision in 2012 to build a new facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we can now offer the full range of approximately 250 precious metal-based catalysts and products. We are the sister site to the main manufacturing site in Hanau, Germany. Pharma is the main part of our business. It’s a growing market and we continue to add new products all the time.
PH: What innovations have you added in the past year?
Chalabi: We have a broad array of different materials we sell into the pharma industry. Among the most popular are cross-coupling catalysts for C-C and C-N bonds. Some 80% of reactions require a catalyst of some sort and these are one of the major types. As well as all of the common types, we have our own proprietary line of cross-coupling and metathesis catalysts that we have in-licensed and developed and which have very special properties, like tolerance for different types of substrates and functional group tolerance – there are some very unique properties that allow transformations that would not otherwise occur.
PH: How’s business in pharma this year?
Chalabi: We’re doing extremely well. We built the plant in 2013, opened it for business in 2014 and it’s full. We are already looking at ways to expand capacity: we are adding additional shifts this year. We built the plant with the expectation of future growth, so we are looking at what additional infrastructure we will need to meet the demand.
PH: What’s driving your growth? The pipeline or demand for your particular products?
Chalabi: It’s probably a bit of both but the most important thing we’re seeing a number of new drugs, both at the early stage and going commercial. We are a commercial manufacturing site, but a lot of innovation also takes place in North America. My business development team is actively meeting with new and existing companies, looking for new opportunities to utilise our catalysts, even if the catalysts aren’t necessarily going to be manufactured in Tulsa. We may provide the initial quantities here and, if the project moves to Europe or Asia, as a global company Umicore can supply them. We have global quality standards and we use the same manufacturing processes, methodologies and analytical testing protocols, and we establish global specifications. So, no matter where in the world you want material, it will always meet the same quality requirements.
PH: We hear much about biocatalysts these days. Has this had an impact on your business?
Chalabi: We have not seen any significant erosion or displacement of projects that we have been involved in because of biocatalysis. They are important technologie andthey have their place in certain types of transformations but chemocatalysis still dominates the marketplace because of its flexibility and because it fits existing kit. Most CMOs today are well suited to run chemocatalysis, perhaps less so for biocatalysis.
PH: And how has the show been?
Chalabi: We have been pleasantly surprised by the uptick in interest. The foot traffic has been quite good. We obviously have had a lot of pre-scheduled meetings with existing customers but we have had a number of new contacts as well and have truly enjoyed the show.