The acquisition will create a "market leader in biocatalysis" enabling the company to further push its technology platforms to pharmaceutical companies looking to create cleaner and more efficient drug discovery and production processes. According to the company, the US market for enzymes is expected to grow to $2.2bn by 2010, driven in part by the increasing demand for cleaner and less costly ways to develop and manufacture pharmaceuticals. "BioCatalytics is one of the most respected companies in the industry and has an extremely good customer service record, a broad catalogue of enzymes and some very good people that complement our team," said Dr Alan Shaw, Codexis' CEO. While Both companies market and develop biocatalysts, with BioCatalytics has focussed on selling 'off-the-shelf' enzymes to customers while Codexis has typically focussed on using its directed evolution technology to generate enzymes for specific reactions.
Dr Shaw explained that the company is now a "one-stop-shop" for biocatalysis and could now offer a complete package of biocatalytic products and services. "We can use their catalogue business as a window to the market - when a customer wants to buy a biocatalyst they may not want to wait for the optimum biocatalyst to be developed because the reaction product is in early stage trials they will buy an enzyme from the BioCatalytics' catalogue," said Dr Shaw. "Then, if they want to scale up the process and need an optimised enzyme they will come to us to develop a superior catalyst in terms of activity that will reduce the cost of the overall process." In February, the company released its Codex biocatalyst panels for early stage drug development which it well sell alongside BioCatalytics off-the shelf products.
If a drug made using these biocatalysts makes it through early-stage trials and the company wants to scale-up production, Codexis can then develop an optimised biocatalyst for the specific process using its MolecularBreeding technology to evolve a 'super' enzyme. "The Codexis keto-reductase (or alcohol dehydrogenase) technology which converts a prochiral ketone to a chiral alcohol has effectively displaced transition-metal based asymmetric hydrogenation technology," said Dr Shaw. The importance of chiral alcohols in the manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) is hard to over-estimate with many blockbuster drugs such as Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Merck's Singulair (montelukast) going via these key intermediates. The company sells three different 96 well-plate Codex panels for keto-reductase reactions that Dr Shaw believes can convert any prochiral ketone into a chiral alcohol.
"We don't need to know what the product is, but we can still guarantee that if you use these Codex panels at least one of the 288 enzymes will show some activity," said Dr Shaw. Earlier this year , Merck signed a non-exclusive license to gain access to the Codex panel which has already had some startling results. "They [Merck] got twelve hits in their first reaction and one of the enzymes was good enough for commercialisation - the panels were too good! We were almost disappointed because we had hoped they would come back and need a directed evolution program," he said. Dr Shaw was quick to acknowledge that while the keto-reductase technology is so effective some other reaction classes do lag somewhat behind although the company plans to role out at least five new enzyme platforms in the near future.
He was keen to emphasise the power of the MolecularBreeding technology that he believes can allow optimal catalysts to be developed for almost any chemical transformation.
"If there is a biopathway, even just theoretical, this technology is so powerful that we can create an enzyme to bring it to life," said Dr Shaw.