The move ties in with increasing interest in so-called glycochemicals among companies developing therapeutics.
Glycochemicals are already represented on the marketplace by a few drugs, mainly antibiotics and cancer treatments and notably the anticoagulant heparin and its derivatives.
However, pharmaceutical products based on carbohydrates are limited by the paucity of natural glycochemicals that are available as a source of building blocks, and the problems associated with synthesising these chemicals at a reasonable cost.
David Demirjian, president of zuChem, said: "Our custom synthesis services will make these novel pharmaceutical building blocks readily available, at economically viable prices."
The company uses a proprietary bioprocessing approach to the synthesis of its glycochemicals. For example, it has developed microbial production technologies for products such as mannitol and other related specialty polyol chemicals, as well as new microbial strains for bioprocess production of inositol derivatives.
The natural chiral purity of carbohydrates makes them candidates as chiral building blocks, and zuChem is also building a position in chiral glycochemistry with a technology platform called Dynasolv. This allows the production of single-enantiomer compounds at 100 per cent yield, thereby reducing the amount of expensive starting material that needs to be discarded or recycled during production.
The company is also developing technologies to produce derivatives and combinatorial libraries of these compounds as second-generation products.
With its new service, zuChem will offer custom synthesis of rare and modified glycochemicals and glycochemical building blocks for drug discovery and development, taking on a sector which features big chemical companies such as Dow Chemical and Sigma-Aldrich, as well as smaller specialist firms such as Dextra Laboratories of the UK and Australia's Alchemia.
"Glycochemicals have a variety of current and future applications including drugs for the treatment of type II diabetes, viral-infections, and cancer metastases," said zuChem in a statement.
The Illinois, US-based firm said it will provide custom synthesis of a wide variety of molecules, including rare L-sugars derivatives and other unusual glycochemicals. The company's facilities are equipped for small molecule glycosylation, microbial fermentation and biotransformation.
Alchemia makes progress
Meanwhile, earlier this month Alchemia achieved a significant milestone when it produced a fully synthetic version of heparin - still one of the most widely-used cardiovascular drugs despite being available for decades - at a commercial scale.
The company intends to use the process in the development of a generic version of Arixtra (fondaparinux sodium), a synthetic version of heparin that was originally developed by Sanofi-Synthelabo but licensed to GlaxoSmithKline to pave the way for the former's merger with Aventis.
"We believe our manufacturing process is likely more efficient than that used in the manufacture of Arixtra, which gives us a significant commercial advantage," said Alchemia chief executive Tracie Ramsdale.
Alchemia met early this month with its collaborators, Dow Chemical and American Pharmaceutical Partners, to discuss a plan of action for seeking regulatory approval for its synthetic heparin from the US Food and Drug Administration.