Chiral Quest, the chemistry subsidiary of US pharmaceutical company VioQuest Pharmaceuticals, makes catalysts and building blocks used in the manufacture of chiral or single-enantiomer drugs, a growing market predicted to rise from $7.0 billion (€6bn) in 2002 to $14.9 billion in 2009, according to market analysts Frost & Sullivan.
Organic compounds tend to exist in two mirror image forms or optical enantiomers. Whether a compound is optically left or right 'handed' has a major impact in the pharmaceutical industry. Today the majority of new drugs being introduced are made in one chiral form, and this has led to an increased market for tools used in their production.
In opening its new pilot plant, VioQuest aims to meet burgeoning demand for catalysts and building blocks in China, which stems from what the company said is "increasingly becoming a hub of outsourced pharmaceutical manufacturing."
Last year, China became the second largest producer of pharmaceutical ingredients in the world with an annual output of 800,000 tons, topping the list in the production of five classes of pharmaceutical chemical. It now ranks first in the world in terms of annual production of penicillin, vitamin C, terramycin, doxycycline hydrochloride and cephalosporin antibiotics.
The Shanghai region in particular has become widely acknowledged as the centre of this effort, thanks to what VioQuest described as 'its highly educated workforce' and the fact that it has been implementing 'world-class standards for technology implementation, manufacturing, and intellectual property management'.
VioQuest's 40,000 square feet facility has been outfitted to produce up to 100 kilos of chiral building blocks and catalysts a year. It includes a 10,000 square feet kilo-scale pilot lab, and a similarly-sized R&D laboratory. The additional space will be re-modelled over the next several months, according to VioQuest. When fully occupied, the building will house nearly 100 employees.
The company said it has a key advantage in the Chinese market because its senior management includes several native Chinese executives, including Dr Bing Yu, VioQuest's director of global operations.
"Cultural differences often present a great challenge to US companies with business in China," he commented.
Chiral Quest Jiashan, as the new facility will be named, will be run by general manager Dr Aaron Shen and chief technology officer Dr Xinquan Hu.