Tables sold out many weeks in advance for this year’s Drug, Chemical, and Associated Technology (DCAT) dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. This is not surprising, as the speaker was a former U.S. president. George W. Bush, who will always be divisive figure in world history, found a sympathetic audience among the drug and drug chemical industry executives gathered for the feast. European attendees were particularly impressed with his interview-style presentation, given the ultra-negative picture of Bush painted by the media in Europe—not that the man gets much better treatment outside Fox News in the U.S. DCAT attendees, perhaps not big MSNBC fans as a whole, found W. folksy and earnest, if somewhat revisionist. Observations vary, however, as I was reminded by a small clutch of citizens on the sidewalk in front of the hotel
But certainly much of the enthusiasm and energy evident at the Waldorf had to do with business, which is picking up. Latest- quarter earnings were strong for the publicly-traded firms on hand, and most others say the close of 2011 was quite solid.
I ran into Brian Scanlan, CEO of Cambridge Major, on his way out of the DSM hospitality suite. “The by-word of the day is late-phase,” he said. “Phase II-plus.” The funding for projects further along in development is increasing, he said, and it’s reflected in Cambridge Major’s contracts last year. Accepted project values doubled, said Scanlon, though the number of projects dropped off from 400 to 300 compared to 2010. While the bottom line is a boost in revenues, there is some concern about the sluggish early stage, said Scanlan. “The pre-clinical market is a leading indicator for this industry,” he said. “And it’s not very pretty.” Scanlan notes that Cambridge Major is placing more emphasis on niche generics, which looks to be a growth market.
Pushing further into the DSM suite, I came across Luca Mantovani, president of DSM Pharma Chemicals, beaming in optimism. Business is good. “We are back to growth, which is the most important thing” he said. “We’re growing faster than the market.” And the company’s party was packed. Mantovani agreed with Scanlan that there is some softness in pre-clinical, however.
Mantovani was among the executives expressing real pleasure with doing business at DCAT, which for years has entailed a week of meetings and programs at the big hotel. “Because of the set-up, it’s a very interesting event.” DCAT is “condensed,” said Mantovani. The suites of the Waldorf offer a better environment for business than the dispersed hotel rooms in the sponsor city of any of the many annual exhibitions for fine chemicals—events one of my sources at DCAT referred to as “meat markets.”
Moving on to the Siegfried suite, I scored a trifecta, coming across Saltigo managing director Wolfgang Schmitz, Hovione CEO Guy Villax, and host company CEO, Rudolf Hanko, chatting and sharing in the general exuberance of the evening. “Business is picking up,” said Schmitz. He was also happy to be at an industry event where there were no exhibit booths. He likes the “confidentiality” of DCAT, he said, and enjoys coming to New York, which is easier to reach than, say, Anaheim, where next year’s Informex is scheduled to take place. I would agree that, despite what has happened to 42nd Street in recent years, New York still distinguishes itself culturally from Disney World.
Hanko, whose firm has also finished a strong year, agreed, noting that DCAT has doubled in size since he first started attending—he did not say when that was.
Leaving Siegfried, I was button-holed by (or perhaps I button-holed) Allen H. Salerno, senior director of sales and marketing for contract research services firm Aptuit, where there was a rise in customer inquiries of late. There has been an uptick since September, says Salerno. “People are making decisions,” he said. “The key performance indicators are up and money is flowing to the smaller companies.” The firm’s integrated discovery and development services strategy is also starting to strike a chord with customers, he said. “We were a little bit ahead of ourselves.”
Toward the end of the evening, I made my way to the end of the fourth floor of suites to where a live DJ provided a musical backdrop to schmoozing in Lonza’s rooms. The scene was hot. In fact, Joseph R. Colleluori, senior vice president for corporate development, was throwing open the sashes, creating a wind tunnel in the foyer as I entered. Untangling himself from the curtains, he gave me the good word on DCAT and Lonza. “The general mood of the industry is optimistic,” he said. “New York brings a sense of optimism with it.” He, like others, prefers DCAT to the any of the expos on the long and growing list of fine chemicals gatherings. Indeed, many in the pharmaceutical industry view the meetings in the Waldorf suites as the key window for doing business with—some would say taking orders from—their chemical suppliers.
Colleluori commented on Lonza’s recent acquisition of specialties firm Arch Chemicals, calling it “completely on track.” Arch is performing as expected as a currency buffer, a geographic expansion of operations, and a portfolio-balancing play. “All the key drivers have materialized.”
In search of my driver, I passed Roger LaForce by the famous big clock in the lobby. We chatted about the synchrotrone solid state analyzer he has been working with at Zach System, the Swiss API-maker where LaForce recently signed on as board member and general manager. Watch this space and/or space in C&EN.
The big clock chimed as I made it to the door. The rank of protesters had already dispersed. Next stop on the Fine Chemical social calendar is, arguably, Chem Outsourcing in Long Branch, NJ, in September—a newish event that has risen swiftly in importance on the sector’s event roster.
There may be some even newer events between now and then. There probably are.
Photos: Veterans for Peace by Rick Mullin. Luca Mantovani by Andreas Wagner for C&EN