For Pharmaceutical services, it’s the best of times in the worst of times
by Rick Mullin
Contribution by Dr. Michael Quirmbach, Chief Executive Officer & President, CordenPharma
Chemical & Engineering News Magazine – September 27, 2020 / Volume 98, Issue 37
Last fall, when the pharmaceutical services sector converged on Frankfurt, Germany, for the CPhI Worldwide drug ingredient trade show, the refrain had become rather monotonous. It was another year of good business—the same story that attendees had been telling since the sector’s recovery from the 2008 recession.
That story might have been expected to take a turn this year because of a pandemic that led to the cancellation of CPhI Worldwide, scheduled for Milan next month. One would think that disruptions in business—including supply chain jolts, delays and cancellations of clinical trials for drugs in development, and the cessation of manufacturing-site visits and regulatory audits—would knock the sector off course.
But contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) executives and industry consultants say the surge continues, propelled only in part by the raft of COVID-19 therapies in development and the race to bring forward a vaccine for the disease. Contractors offering both active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) synthesis services and the ability to formulate those APIs into finished drugs seem to be reaping the most benefits.Still, there is little doubt that 2020 has been a year like no other in pharmaceutical services. Executives repeat expressions like “transformative” and “wake-up call.” The rapid shift from human interaction to virtual reality has fostered new work processes that are likely to become semipermanent. And while the first 4 months of the pandemic delivered no serious breakdown in the global pharmaceutical supply chain, its impact revealed vulnerabilities.
Peptide API Manufacturing at CordenPharma Colorado
CordenPharma, a German pharmaceutical services firm, is also supplying Moderna with lipids needed to encapsulate the vaccine. The firm announced a contract expansion in May under which it will manufacture large volumes of lipids for the vaccine candidate at plants in France and the US. CordenPharma has supplied the lipids from a facility in Switzerland since 2016.
The vaccine work comes on top of what was already a profitable year, according to CordenPharma CEO Michael Quirmbach. “We have a lot of opportunities from other companies, but Moderna has been the biggest,” he says.
And meeting Moderna’s demand is the current focus, Quirmbach says. “The challenge is to rapidly scale up what was originally a lab-scale, low-kilo-scale process to multiple hundreds of kilos in record time,” he says. “Whenever you scale up 50x, that is a significant challenge.”
Thanks to the Moderna project and others, Quirmbach expects a repeat of last year’s 20% sales growth at CordenPharma and for sales to reach about $535 million this year.
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