Avantium Technologies BV
Avantium Technologies BV
Sales: $6.5 million (2005)
NAIC: 541710 Research and Development in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Sciences
Avantium Technologies BV provides advanced chemical research services to the pharmaceutical, biotech, oil refining, and bulk and specialty chemicals industries. The Amsterdam-based company combines expertise in a wide array of fields, ranging from crystallography, catalysis, and organic chemistry, to robotics systems, process engineering, and statistics, to software development, with an emphasis on developing high-throughput processes for chemical research, development, and experimentation. The company has also established one of the world's largest catalysts libraries. Avantium has become a leader in developing and providing automated research and testing systems, in part through subsidiary Crystallics, which provides high-throughput polymorph screening services for solid state chemical applications. Avantium typically works in close partnership with its clients' research and development departments, both by providing outsourcing capacity, as well as placing employees in the field. Formed around core expertise developed by Shell, Avantium was founded by a consortium combining chemical groups, venture capital firms, the University of Leiden, and two other technical universities in the Netherlands. Members of the consortium include Shell, GSK, Eastman, Pfizer, Cazenove Private Equity, EDB Ventures, Akzo Nobel, and WR Grace, among others. Avantium Technologies remains a privately held company; Tom van Aken was named the company's chief executive officer in 2005.
ADVANCED CHEMICAL RESEARCH SERVICES PROVIDER
The development of new and ever more sophisticated research technologies, coupled with the need to increase the speed and efficiency of the research and development and testing cycles, stimulated the growth of a new market for outsourcing research at the end of the 1990s. The development of new high-throughput technologies, and high-speed experimentation and simulation technologies, provided the potential for a vast reduction in the research and development cycle. By combining multiple disciplines, the new technologies enabled huge gains in efficiency. Where traditionally experiments such as the testing of chemicals required that each variable be tested individually, the new technologies permitted the simultaneous testing of multiple variables, such as types of catalysts and solvents, influence of temperature and pressure, and the like. New advances in robotics, software development, and nano-technologies also enabled the automation of research, development, and testing processes.
The increasing sophistication of technologies led a growing number of chemicals and pharmaceuticals companies, but also universities and chemical research software specialists, to seek out partnerships, as well as new sources of capital. These factors led Shell International Chemicals to form a technology partnership with the pharmaceuticals group SmithKline Beecham, informatics software developer GSE Systems, and three Dutch universities, the University of Leiden, Eindhoven University of Technology, and the University of Twente, to pool their experimental development of high-throughput hardware, software, and processes into a new company, called Avantium. Joining the partnership at the outset were the venture capital companies Alpinvest, The Generics Group, and SmithKline Beecham's own venture capital wing, SR One. Shell International Chemical's own technology formed the platform for Avantium's high-speed experimentation and simulation technology. Shell International Chemicals also provided Avantium's first CEO, Ian Maxwell, who had formerly been with the Dutch oil and chemicals giant as a technology manager. Avantium was also headquartered in Amsterdam, close to the Shell Chemical research laboratory, which itself had operated in Amsterdam since 1914. Avantium was launched in March 2000 with an initial capitalization of EUR 30 million ($28 million).
Avantium quickly attracted new partners to its shareholder consortium. By 2001, the company's backers included WR Grace, Akzo Nobel Chemicals, Pfizer, Eastman Chemical, and the newly formed Glaxo SmithKline. The company also added venture capital backing, including NIB Capital and Cazenove, among others. Many of the company's shareholders also became the company's partners. Avantium formed a catalyst development partnership with Eastman Chemical, for example, in 2001. Avantium received a strong boost in September 2001 when the Netherlands' government provided an NLG 10 million (approximately $5 million) grant in support of the company's university-based development program. By then, the company had already initiated 12 collaborative programs with its university partners. These programs focused especially on two promising areas, catalysts and high-throughput experimentation and simulation.
Avantium's high-throughput efforts took a step forward in 2001 as well when the company reached an agreement to acquire the VirtualPlant and VirtualLab software groups, developed in collaboration with GSE Systems. The acquisitions gave Avantium two new offices, in Maryland in the United States, and in Hexham, in Northumberland, England, and formed the basis of a new subsidiary, Avantium Technologies (US) Inc.
At the same time, Avantium's collaboration with the University of Leiden was also beginning to produce results. In 2000, that partnership had launched a subsidiary, Crystallics, which focused on developing high-throughput technologies for polymorph screening and protein crystallization, and providing research outsourcing services based on its technologies. By 2001, Crystallics had put into place a high-throughput polymorph screening system for the pharmaceutical market. The successful launch of Crystallics' high-throughput commercial operations led Avantium to take full control of the subsidiary in 2001. As part of that acquisition, Crystallics acquired the exclusive rights to deploy the high-throughput technologies produced through its collaboration with the University of Leiden. The high-throughput operations were moved to Crystallics laboratories at Avantium's Amsterdam headquarters. The collaborative effort in the field of protein crystallization remained at the University of Leiden.
Avantium Technologies provides innovative high-throughput R&D services and technologies to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Avantium innovation driven solutions combine high-throughput experimentation technology, novel research methodology and state-of-the-art software to accelerate R&D. Our mission is to increase the success rate and economics of the product and process development efforts of our customers. Using Avantium's proprietary technology platforms they will generate high-quality results much faster than using conventional research methods.
Catalyst research became another major area of Avantium's operations in the early 2000s. In 2001, the company joined a catalyst research consortium, Combicar, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in partnership with Berlin's Fritz Haber Institute, Spain's Institute of Chemical Technology, and three Malaysian universities. The new company focused its research on developing catalysts that could be used to transform raw materials such as palm oil and liquefied natural gas into high-value added products. Avantium's part in this effort consisted of providing its high-throughput technology and marketing support. In 2002, the company intensified its relationship with venture partner Universiti Malaya, forming a new collaboration to develop high-end products from palm oil, a chief Malayan resource.
Catalysts played an essential role in the development of new testing and screening procedures and high-throughput technologies. In response, Avantium began building its own "library" of catalysts, which were acquired from the major catalyst producers. This effort took on steam in October 2001, when Avantium reached a supply agreement with Degussa AG, a leading global catalyst producer.
PARTNERING FOR GROWTH
The forming of partnerships remained a major factor behind Avantium's growth into the mid-2000s. In 2002, for example, the company reached a chemical research collaboration agreement with DSM in order to develop computer-based chemical research simulations. As part of the agreement, DSM agreed to invest EUR 1 million in the project. The partnership was soon followed by the announcement of an agreement with Amcis, part of Solutia Inc., to develop plant modeling and simulation technologies for pharmaceutical synthesis and experimentation.
In 2003, Avantium merged its Crystallics subsidiary into another unit, Avantium Pharma, creating a new subsidiary, Avantium Life Sciences. The move combined the two units' technologies and research and development teams. Because both units targeted similar markets, and shared many of the same clients and facilities, the merger also allowed Avantium to streamline its marketing and sales operations.
Avantium also continued to seek out new partnerships. In 2003, for example, the company extended its relationship with shareholder Eastman Chemical Company. The new agreement called for the joint development of new catalytic systems focused on Eastman's own specialty chemical production. The company also continued to build up its catalyst library, forming a biocatalyst supply agreement with Novozymes, based in Denmark, in October 2003.
Avantium also invested in its own internal expansion. In January 2004, for example, the company opened a new cytotoxic compound research facility at its Amsterdam headquarters. The new unit was established to develop new polymorph screening procedures in support of pharmaceutical companies' efforts to produce higher-potency drugs.
Nonetheless, partnerships remained a major factor in Avantium's development into the middle of the decade. In 2004, the company added a new partnership, with Chiral Quest Inc., to add that company's chiral ligand catalysts to Avantium's catalyst library. In March 2004, the company teamed up with BP Petrochemicals, forming a collaborative effort to develop catalysts for the oil company's commodity chemicals operations. At the end of that year, the company signed a new research agreement with the Institute of OneWorld Health. The agreement called for Avantium to use its technologies to conduct studies on a new drug developed to treat Chagas' disease. By the end of 2005, Avantium had formed partnerships with some 40 of the world's major chemicals and pharmaceuticals companies. The company added to that list with a partnership with Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim.
The company also expanded its in-house capacity that year, adding a new workflow at its laboratory in Delft. The new unit enhanced Avantium's capacity in the polymer process development, and especially in petroleum derivatives such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and styrene. Also in 2005, the company launched a new parallel crystallization device, Crystal16, capable of running 16 experiments in parallel, developed in partnership with Pfizer.
- Avantium is formed by a consortium including Shell International Chemicals, SmithKline Beecham, GSE Systems, three Dutch universities, and venture capital companies Alpinvest, The Generics Group, and SR One; Avantium forms Crystallics joint venture with University of Leiden.
- Avantium acquires Crystallics; joins Combicar research consortium based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; acquires Virtual Plant and Virtual Lab from GSE Systems.
- Company merges Crystallics and Avantium Pharma to form new subsidiary, Avantium Life Sciences.
- Company opens new cytotoxic compound research unit.
- Company expands polymer process development capacity; launches Crystal16 system for parallel crystallization experimentation.
- Avantium signs collaboration agreement with Warwick Effect Polymers.
Under newly appointed CEO Tom van Aken, Avantium continued developing its network of partnerships into 2006. At the beginning of that year, the company announced its latest collaboration, with Warwick Effect Polymers based in the United Kingdom. The agreement called for Avantium to help develop and market Warwick's Polypeg polymer-based system for enhancing the uptake of drugs into the human body. In just half a decade, Avantium had established itself as a leading player in the rapidly growing technology services market.
Avantium Chemicals; Avantium Life Sciences.
Unilab Corp.; Quest Diagnostics Inc.; Medicus S.A.; Mds Inc.; Evotec AG; Inpharmatica; MDS Pharma; Genzyme Corp.; Nippon Flour Mills Company Ltd.; Laboratorio Medico del Chopo S.A. de C.V.; Takara Holdings Inc.; Lonza Group Ltd.; Diagnostic Medlab Ltd.; Sanofi Synthelabo Recherche; DixAmico; S.R.L. Inc.
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―――――――, "Novel Catalysts Cut Costs, Increase Capability," Chemical Week, August 10, 2005, p. 24.