Bio not necessarily best, says Lonza CEO

By Phil Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Chemistry

The pharmaceutical industry sometimes seems besieged from all sides at present, and that has implications for contract manufacturers, according to Stefan Borgas, CEO of Lonza, at a recent meeting of the European Fine Chemicals Group (EFCG) in Frankfurt.

There is no doubt that the pharmaceutical industry is facing tough times. Declining growth rates, patent expiries and dwindling pipelines are taking their toll. But he cautioned against the notion held in some quarters that biotechnology will be the industry’s saviour

Many companies see investing in biotech as a solution to the innovation problems besetting pharma, but this is not the only solution​,” said Borgas.

The pharmaceutical market last year exceeded $700bn, with eight of the top 10 drugs small molecules​,” he pointed out. “In 2012, the amount spent on small-molecule drugs will still be three out of every four dollars.​”

Many of the investors who advise Lonza to exit chemicals and focus on the biologics business forget that the company had already invested $1bn into it before it started to make the first dollar of profit. And Lonza has now invested a further $500m and will invest that amount again in the next three years, said Borgas.

Payback is still a long way away​,” he said, and that is the case with most new technologies. “We’re dealing with 20-year lifecycles in this industry​,” he said, “yet sometimes we are managed quarterly.​”

Taking a closer look at the chemical side of Lonza’s business, it is apparent that in addition to being much bigger, it is also equally dramatic in terms of development.

Chemistry has developed at a phenomenal rate over the last decades, with the development of chiral molecules, peptides, oligonucleotides and high-potent APIs all pushing the boundaries of chemical science.

In fact, chemistry is arguably marrying and even taking over biology at the moment, said Borgas, pointing to the focus on antibody-drug conjugates and the fact that companies are now seeking small-molecules that do the same job as biologics but are easier to formulate and give to patients.

We are going back from antibodies, to antibody fragments, proteins and finally to small molecules, in other words full circle from biology back to chemistry​.”

That situation is mirrored in manufacturing technologies too, according to Borgas. The developments in the latter half of the 20th century in organic chemistry, asymmetric synthesis, catalyst designs, solid phase synthesis for peptides, microreactor technology, biotransformation etc.

For everyone who loves chemistry just as much as we do – the show must go on​!” said Borgas.

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