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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 10, 2010

Chemical Supplier Question

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Posted by Derek

Here's a quick question for those of you that order a lot of odd little compounds. A correspondent tells me that he's been ordering resupplies from some of the usual suspects in this area (ChemBridge, ChemDiv - you know the sorts of companies, if you're in the med-chem business). And a higher than usual percentage of compounds are coming back as "Unavailable". . .only to show up available, at a significantly higher price, from Aurora.

Now, I certainly don't know the business arrangements between all these companies. I know that some of the compounds themselves are clearly coming from the same original sources, often somewhere in Russia, and make their way into a number of catalogs at once. But is this Aurora business a coincidence. . .or a business model? Anyone seen this happen personally?

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. A Nonny Mouse on February 10, 2010 12:48 PM writes...

No idea, but can someone tell me why a litre of trichloroacetyl chloride is now £600 ($1,000)?

Gone up 5 fold in no time.

All of the suppliers (SAF, Alfa, Acros)now have very similar prices.

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2. anchor on February 10, 2010 1:19 PM writes...

I had seen this happen, when I was still employed with pharma, but not any more. Aurora (based in Austria?) is very exorbitant, then as is now. Sadly, I picked up many catalogs in ACS National meeting and my experience is that many of these companies are "here today and gone tomorrow" types. Many of these companies are based off shore (China, India) with the offices here in the USA (operating from the basement, I suppose). They too are very expensive and unrelaible. To this day I can vouch for Sigma-Aldrich, Strem Chemicals and others (no one paid me to say this). The old axiom "buyer beware" is apt.

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3. Evorich on February 10, 2010 1:48 PM writes...

We have a dynamic scoring system for compound suppliers that continually ranks them based on speed of quoting, speed of delivery, compound availablity, and cost. We order more frequently from the ones near the top of the list, and we even sometimes perform virtual screens against our "prefered supplier" list. I'm happy to post the current league table if you want - but I have a feeling that everyone has the same information.

There's also an additional "frequently has weird compounds no-one else has" prefered supplier list - i.e. companies we're prepared to tolerate being low on the above table for diversity reasons.

I haven't seen the Aurora effect but I've seen similar results, to what you describe, with Ambinter ordering.

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4. Sili on February 10, 2010 2:46 PM writes...

Isn't capitalism lovely?

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5. Cassius on February 10, 2010 3:01 PM writes...

I have only been doing this for about 18 months now, so I can't speak to the Aurora effect. But I will take a moment to dump on Aurora. They often have chemicals that my clients need for SAR studies, and I now simply tell my clients they are not available when Aurora is the only supplier. I've called the San Diego office on two occasions, and I'm pretty sure I get through to some guy sitting at his kitchen table scarfing down donuts.... I assume the times he doesn't answer the phone (most of the time), he's too busy with the Playstation. Then of course he just tells you to send him an email. Half the time I don't get a quote back... the other half, I laugh at the ridiculous price. I should start my own contract synthesis company.... if you can do simple chemistry, you can resupply most of these chemicals. As to #3's comment, Ambinter is also very expensive, but much easier to deal with. Sorry for the rant.... but the name Aurora made me throw up in my mouth a little, and I felt the need to lay into the donut man.

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6. CMCguy on February 10, 2010 4:34 PM writes...

I have no specific info on Aurora but this sounds very similar to what happens in scale-up land as a business model. Often chemicals that show up in several suppliers catalogs as mentioned really come from same single source. That source can be a small outfit in god-knows-where, formerly many Russian/East block origins as suggested but those too are competing against Chinda now, or even a few University/Academic labs that make items on the side. Typically may only make certain chemicals "periodically" as global supplies for 2-5 years and get little actual return (Catalogers mark-up could be another post). Occasionally a Chemical Broker will come along and convince the sole supplier they can increase demand/profits if they enter an Exclusivity arrangement. Alternatively places may decide to get out or making certain chemicals and a Broker will purchase the Technology (Procedures, Methods, data) that can set up production at another facility. In either situation a monopoly on supply is created and price escalation follows. I have seen this with a several key raw materials needed for scale-up and can be frustrating to deal with early stage however unless there is solid IP involved usually can encourage alternate sources (in Chinda mostly) for long term demand.

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7. Chemjobber on February 10, 2010 5:17 PM writes...

Evorich, I'd love to see/hear any list you might have...

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8. Martin on February 10, 2010 5:43 PM writes...

We see this all the time in VS hits. As previous posters have alluded to we have in time winnowed down our list of preferred suppliers who will deliver. Our situation is an academic organisation in Australia, so we often face the double-whammy:

1) They're not interested in supplying us. Customs criteria are too strict (many compounds in supplier databases have no CAS numbers therefore Aus customs assumes (stupidly) that therefore no tox has ever been done and no-one knows if it's safe to import 5mg!

2) Many suppliers to academic institutions set stupid "rules" such as a minimum of 1000 compounds in plates, or minimum $1000 order which we're just not interested in if we just want 4x$30 for SAR.

The other reason many compounds come back as unavailable is that many of these suppliers are now working on "synthesis on demand". If you want to check which ones are available "now" then I suggest using the Zinc ***_now databases for searching. They only have compounds the suppliers claim are 2 weeks away max inc. shipping.

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9. Martin on February 10, 2010 6:13 PM writes...

Oh yes, forgot to add:
Maybridge/Ryan Scientific now demand credit card payment up front for .au customers. They claim this is for all non-US customers but I have not had this verified

whilst common in some industries it's a pain in the &*% way of working with universities where the finance systems are frequently, how shall I put this nicely, um, constrained?

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10. Iain on February 10, 2010 6:21 PM writes...


I would be very interested to see your current league table of suppliers.


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11. coprolite on February 10, 2010 7:03 PM writes...

I agree wholeheartedly, the mention of supplier data is intriguing.

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12. anon on February 10, 2010 10:57 PM writes...

#3: I'd like to see your list too. I've found AK Scientific to routinely have compounds in stock for a low price. Synthonix is also good. Ditto Matrix and Oakwood.

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13. nitric_oxide_99 on February 11, 2010 9:39 AM writes...

Recently I've very much enjoyed dealing with IRIS biotech (Germany) and GLS biochem (Shanghai) for supply of amino acid and peptide building blocks as well as other assorted reagents. Both deliver high quality materials in a reasonable time and their prices are hard to beat.

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14. RB Woodweird on February 11, 2010 10:57 AM writes...


How about making your list available via Scribd or by email? It seems that a lot of us do what you are doing but in our heads.

This whole Aurora business reminds me of domain name sniffing.

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15. bad wolf on February 11, 2010 11:05 AM writes...

Isn't Evorich's list presumably specific to his industry specialty and location? In grad school we used one supplier quite heavily just because they were close enough to offer us free shipping.

It sounds interesting but is hardly likely to be a one-size-fits-all list, particularly for a readership as diverse as this blog.

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16. A Nonny Mouse on February 11, 2010 12:17 PM writes...

For those buying from Maybridge, it easiest to use Fisher for the order (assuming that most universities have an account).

As a very small contract R&D outfit myself (UK based) I have to say that the worst problem is shipping; larger companies will have an IATA specialist to deal with this (I've just had a package for the US returned 3 times for slight problems with the paperwork!). As a consequence, it is easier to sell a lot of things through third parties (such as the one mentioned above...). As stated by one of the commentators (CMGuy), I am lucky to obtain 20% of the sales price (which includes the cost of the starting materials as well). Admittedly, the company may have to have these items on their shelves for a few years (they only buy for that period). If other suppliers are like us, then a lot of the materials will be "overstock" from other projects. Once the supply is depleted, it then becomes an expensive exercise to re-make a small amount for a low margin. Probably explains why some of these materials tend to be out of stock.

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17. milkshake on February 11, 2010 1:02 PM writes...

#17 but i also noticed that some small companies advertise materials that are made to order. They just have a procedure and could make it for you with 6 weeks of lead time. They would polute the ACD database with structures of building blocks that they could make but actually do not have at hand.

Maybridge is a seriously good company, and generally not too expensive compared to its competitors.

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18. A chemist on February 11, 2010 5:45 PM writes...

I've noticed this Aurora effect for a while, too. More annoying are the companies that list structures in the SciFinder Suppliers database. If and when they reply to my inquiry, they will offer to make the compound for an outrageous fee on a generous timeline.

It makes me want to propose some sort of "chemical sharing" website where academics or non-selective, non-restricted users (I'm assuming industry won't touch something they can't accurately source) can ask for help finding small amounts of weird or at one time commercial compounds.

In that vein, does anyone know where I can get 20 mg to 1 g of ... ?

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19. Pieter on February 11, 2010 9:05 PM writes...

For a process guy like me these "funky" building blocks are a plague. Cute for SAR and lead selection, but you're doomed if you need larger quantities for something as simple as a preclinical tox batch. Why push something into development if you can't get the building blocks or have to spend a fortune to fail early; a consideration too often ignored.

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20. Imants Zudans on February 12, 2010 5:21 AM writes...

We order/source a fair amount of screening compounds for our clients. I don't remember ordering from Aurora recently so I can't comment on the "Aurora effect". Can someone send me some examples? I would like to see what our staff can do in this situation.

@Martin Contact me. We can probably help you with billing and ordering compounds for supplier direct prices.

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21. Anonymous on February 12, 2010 8:47 AM writes...

Any thoughts on UkrOrgSyn? I get their "products" in my searches a lot, but they are so far down on our hierarchy of companies to order from (and most often have the lead time issue as well), I don't even bother.

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22. processchemist on February 12, 2010 9:05 AM writes...

And what about Enamine? I remember the infamous CGK733 figuring in their product list....

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23. Imants Zudans on February 12, 2010 9:40 AM writes...

In screening compound ordering it is always a balance between lead time and number of available compounds. Procrastination on buyer side is very common as well. Is 2 to 3 weeks lead time instead of 1 week really so bad? Sometimes the required short lead time is justified. Not always, however.

Both Enamine and UkrOrgSynthesis have delivered good service to us. I don't know why you wouldn't bother to order from them. Did something do wrong with one of your orders?

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24. sgcox on February 12, 2010 9:41 AM writes...

Enamine is fine. We use them a lot and I never complained about delivery and availability. Nothing is wrong with that compound in itself, you can get from Tocris too :
It is just people who published...

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25. sgcox on February 12, 2010 6:51 PM writes...

Just a random thought: All BP outsource to China for the cheap organic chemistry. But look on best (at least top tier) suppliers, like ChemBridge, ChemDdiv, Asinex, Enamine, etc which everybody use. They all are based in Russia/Ukraine. Why not outsource there ? Why no BP forms site/hub in Moscow/Kiev for cheap and very professional labor ?

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26. small town chemist on February 12, 2010 10:06 PM writes...

I would like to throw the name "Karl Industries" in the mix here. I have found them saving me a pretty penny on the Aldrich/Acros prices on several occasion. When I called them up once for technical support, a real chemist actually answered the phone!

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27. CrazyDave on February 12, 2010 10:21 PM writes...

#25, because Ge Li is Chinese, not Russian. More seriously, there are a lot more Chinese than Russians/Ukrainians in drug discovery (at least in the US), and many of the Chinese CROs were set up by US-trained Chinese, and a lot of their early contracts involved some personal trust/connections, not only lower prices. Also the Chinese government actively encourages these sort of ventures with free trade zones, etc. The Russians seem happy to rely on their mineral/oil wealth.

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28. Evorich on February 15, 2010 6:13 AM writes...

I didn't mean to kiss and run on this - just got overwhelmingly busy in the real world for a few days.

I chose an obvious scoring cut-off, which turned out to produce a top 12. (Anyone can start running this calculation - ask your favorite computational chemist/purchasing person):

Key Organics
ASDI Biosciences
Vitas M Labs
Life Chemicals

Some others that we find ourselves ordering from quite a bit because they have stuff the others often don't have (i.e. the top 4 in the "novelty league table" not shown above and not in order):

Albany Molecular Research, Inc.
Chem T&I
Florida Center for Heterocyclic Compounds
Princeton Biomolecular Research

For some context, this is screening compound supply for virtual screens or screening libraries, not reagent supply.

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29. Iain on February 15, 2010 6:16 PM writes...


Thanks! Really interesting list


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30. martin frye on February 17, 2010 8:23 AM writes...

We use many of the major suppliers already listed to find products. Some difficulty arises when ordered products do not deliver. Then the search begins for finding the product from another supplier. Time consuming at best, especially when buying 4 or 5 suppliers for the same project. Cost, delivery time, non delivery make tracking the orders difficult. Not to advertise, but we have used ChemNavigator for some of our screening projects.

We have also found that when we contact a supplier for 1 gram level building block, we get a price that seems high (i.e. ~1000 EUR) or a >30 delivery, it usually means resynthesis and we try elsewhere first to see if its available.

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31. indianpaddy on February 19, 2010 3:00 PM writes...

I have found Ellanova very good; they seem to synthesize to demand but keep you up to date on any issues

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