At a time when blockbusters with simple molecules are getting fewer and far between, pharma companies are increasingly looking at chiral molecules as possible leads and companies offering chiral technology are finding a new and growing market. Daicel Chemical Industries, for instance, a $3-billion (Rs 12,300-crore) Tokyo-headquartered company, helps pharma companies engaged in drug discovery and development to get a pure and distinct form of a chiral molecule, also known as an optically pure molecule or chirally-pure compound. This, without the jargon, very loosely means the active molecule of such a (chiral) drug. The technology could also be used to estimate the optical purity of the drug.
If you're still wondering what's the big deal about this technology, hear out Masato Sakai, General Manager, Marketing and Development with Daicel: "Six of the top 10 drugs in 2005, including Lipitor and Zocor (both cholesterol-lowering medicines), have been chiral compounds."
There are several factors driving the growth of chiral technology. Other than the argument about fewer blockbusters with simple molecules, there is the case of few innovator companies opting for this technology to extend the patent life of their drug. Another trigger for chiral molecules are the regulatory pressures (especially from the US Food and Drug Administration), which favour chirally-pure compounds than racemates, or mixtures. Racemates tend to contain less active or inactive or sometimes even toxic compounds that may have side-effects.
Sales of optically-active chiral drugs are estimated at over $7 billion (Rs 28,700 crore), and are expected to grow to $15 billion (Rs 61,500 crore) in the next couple of years. Daicel already has over 100 clients in India. Now, in a bid to tap the market further, it has set up a base in the country to provide technical support service out of ICICI Knowledge Park near Hyderabad. "Because we have many customers here we needed a strategic beachhead in the exploding pharmaceutical market," says Sakai, on a recent visit to Hyderabad from Tokyo. "Chiral has become mainstream for new drugs and we believe that our chiral technology is needed for not only quality control of these chiral drugs but also for drug development at the pre-clinical stage."
At the moment, Daicel has four sites: Japan, us, Europe and China, other than India. Daicel India will cover South East Asia. "Our revenue is related to the revenue of pharmaceutical companies, especially their R&D expense. Thus, US, Europe and Japan are still big markets for us, but the Indian and Chinese markets are showing very rapid growth."