Five minutes at DCAT with …
Scott Martin, VP of Fine Chemicals at Albemarle
Albemarle Fine Chemistry Services is a division of the diversified chemical company Albemarle. It provides custom synthesis and manufacturing of intermediates and active ingredients to the pharmaceutical, agrochemicals, base oil lubricants and speciality chemicals industries. It operates four sites in the US.
PH: What industries do you mainly serve?
Martin: Pharma and ag are our main customer base. We have a portfolio of 18 generic drugs, all great products that have been around a long time, for a very broad spectrum of therapies. Our cGMP site is at South Haven, Michigan, which has been producing since the 1970s. The other site supporting custom processing for both ag and pharma is at Tyrone, Pennsylvania. It was also established in the late 1970s and has a long record in this industry, notably making registered starting materials (RSMs). We are seeing – and hope to see more – manufacture of RSMs coming back to the US.
PH: What is driving that?
Martin: Quality. Some people now want Western sources for their RSMs. They are realising that they have way too many suppliers, a lot of them from the East, and managing them is too much trouble. This trend benefits my whole business, but particularly Tyrone, my low-cost intermediates plant.
PH: There has been some analysis suggesting that generics will increasingly go to China rather than India…
Martin: It wouldn’t surprise me. There have been a lot of failures in India recently and internal demand in China is massive. The industry will have to grow heavily just to supply that. Most of it will be generics, which are proven products and low cost to produce. My experience of dealing with China is that they will invest to get where they need to be.
PH: Are you looking at getting into biologics at all?
Martin: We are happy to be in the small molecule space. Our strength is organic chemistry. Very few of the companies Wall Street calls ‘biotechs’ actually make large molecules – it’s just another buzzword. If you’re in that space, good for you, because there is big growth there, percentage-wise and the pre-clinical work is balanced about 50-50, but once you get to Phase III it’s at least 75% small molecule. The entire pipeline is fuller than it was three or four years ago, which is good news all round.
PH: Is Albemarle working on continuous processing?
Martin: ‘Continuous’ is another buzzword right now. My early career was spent in petrochemicals and they can only be made continuously, so I’m not so sure why it is seen as such a novel thing in the fine chemical world! Years ago, one of the sites I was managing took a batch process and made the front and back ends continuous, with one middle step still in batch, and increased the output four-fold with no more manpower and almost no capital. We have some processes that are continuous already, where the chemistry lent itself to that. But most chemistries don’t have the necessary two- to three-hour cycle times, or the volumes don’t justify it, or in some cases the material does not come out on-spec first time and has to be recycled. Also in this industry, when more volumes come in, the price tends to come down. If you are only taking up a portion of a plant, taking up a bit more only has a limited benefit of less clean-up, but there is not a huge cost reduction from a bit more volume – until you get to a dedicated plant and can really work on getting that incremental bit of cost out. I’m not negative about continuous processing, but it isn’t the cure for everything: it’s just another technique to solve a problem.