Contract Pharma: What does Altus give you that you don't have in-house at Halo?
Clive Bennett: Around 80 to 90% of the clients who come to us know what needs doing. They have a scope of work in mind. In those cases, it's a straightforward process of what we're going to charge for the work and whether we have any suggestions for the process.
That doesn't cover the whole universe. There are some situations, especially in early-stage work, where people have a problem. And there are a variety of those. One current example is the need for abuse-deterrence in opioids. Low solubility is critical for many new compounds, where a solution needs to be found to get them bioavailable.
I felt that it would be useful for Halo to be able to offer solutions to problems, in addition to our fee-for-service offerings. Altus isn't the be-all and end-all; it's not the only example of this. I think there are other drug delivery solutions and technologies that would be incremental to our standard offerings, and we'll look at those, so we can provide a whole suite of solutions to problems.
CP: Halo isn't just partnering with Altus; it's now a minority owner in the company. Who are the other owners?
CB: There's the management of Altus, there's Paladin Labs — which owns the intellectual property Altus uses, since they bought Labopharm — and there's us.
CP: How'd the relationship between Altus and Halo begin?
CB: It started off with a conversation between Damon Smith [Altus' chief executive officer] and me. Damon was the driving force, trying to get Altus going. Originally, we planned to work together on the marketing and sales end.
But we soon realized that we could work together more closely. Damon is in very early stage work — preclinical through pharmacokinetic studies. We're very strong in commercial and are reaching back into earlier stages. So the idea is that he'll have clients who continue to move downstream. It will helpful for him if he can be sure there's a clear pathway for his clients to move forward. By the same token, we have a lot of traffic through our facilities with clients who can become aware of Altus.
CP: Where is Altus located?
CB: It'll operate inside our Montreal facility in a discrete space. And by "discrete," I mean that both companies will be very mindful of their confidentiality obligations towards their respective clients.
It's very important to us that there be no sense of pushing clients toward towards proprietary solutions, such as the ones Altus offers. Our intention is to offer such services only where the client truly understands and feels a need for them — if we can make things work without proprietary technologies we will be very diligent in doing so.
CP: Did you have a working history with Damon Smith?
CB: Not particularly. I knew a number of people from Labopharm, which developed Altus' IP, as I mentioned. But he came to talk to me about what he's trying to do with Altus and to see if there were ways we could collaborate. I had already felt that, from a marketing perspective, it would be good to offer solutions for solubility issues and other problems, so it developed from there.
CP: Were clients asking for something like Altus from you? Was there a spoken need for you to get into earlier stage work?
CB: No, this is our own initiative. We want to have collaborations with people who can solve particular problems. That way, we can point clients in the right direction and form the downstream arm of the solution, providing scaleup and enabling them to get to submission stage and — we hope — beyond to commercialization. That's why I was interested in this move.
CP: Are Altus' technologies fully scaleable to your operations?
CB: Yes. Their PNDS miclles technology is usable in both oral solid dosage and parenterals, but that's the least developed technology. Now, we don't have sterile operations yet, but by the time a client has moved forward with that technology, we hope to have sterile capacity.
CP: Are you looking to add that internally?
CB: We're looking to acquire a sterile facility somewhere in North America. We've also looked at western Europe. We have a number of irons in the fire, but nothing I can share with you.
CP: How important are proprietary technology offerings to a CDMO?
CB: I'm about to find out!
I may be wrong, but I don't think that's the case. I think there's a section of the business where people need a solution. Maybe it's 80/20 or 90/10, in favor of work that don't need a proprietary solution. But there's 10% to 20% of people out there who need help finding a solution, and we can provide help end to end.
Altus can get clients from lab bench to a pilot PK study that works. They'll have the characteristics of the formulation and the specs of the excipients and qualified analytical methods, and we'll be fully aware of those and take the project along into the later stages.
Gil Roth has been the editor of Contract Pharma since its debut in 1999.