The move should allow DSM to hike the output of the intermediate and also reduce its production costs, a response to the increasing competition in the sector.
"This is key in the current antibiotics market," commented Jan Zuidam, vice chairman of DSM's Managing Board. "Increased competition and lower penicillin prices today ask for even greater economies of scale."
DSM's existing ZOR-f plant in Delft, the Netherlands, will undergo a revamp that will see the production of 7-ADCA (7-aminodeacetoxycephalosporanic acid) go up by more than 50 per cent. The additional capacity is expected to be operational early in 2005.
The ZOR-f plant was opened in 2001, using a new fermentative production process using a strain of the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum developed in-house.
This strain has been engineered a number of genetic traits, which enable it to perform a number of reactions in its cells which used to need a lot of solvents and reagents and which resulted in a lot of waste being produced. The development has made the production of 7-ADCA nearly completely sustainable, the use of reagents has been decimated and organic solvents are hardly needed at all.
Since no organic solvents are needed, this is a 'green route' production process, which DSM says provides substantial environmental benefits as well as lower production costs.
However, DSM's decision to expand capacity comes at a time when older antibiotics, including the cephalosporins, are being superseded by newer classes. A recent report from market research firm Datamonitor predicted that the annual growth rate of the overall antibiotic category would be just 1.8 per cent per annum over the next five years, down from 2.1 per cent in 1997-2002. It is currently valued at around $26 billion (€21.6bn).
Datamonitor maintains that the older penicillin, macrolide or cephalosporin classes are increasingly falling out of favour, with physicians switching to other drugs, such as fluoroquinolones, which offer better oral bioavailability and increased efficacy.
Meanwhile, the focus of new product development has now shifted to the carbapenem, ketolide and oxazolidinone classes.