Baby Steps, Giant Leaps.
Having only been formed in 2011, Brock Fine Chemicals is the new name on the regional scene. Nevertheless, its technology has been proven over the last few years, its facilities are up and running, and it has already won a number of contracts for industrial clients. This new kid on the block has hit the ground running.
Brock Fine Chemicals is so new that it operates around the small core team of Prof Graham Sandford – effectively its mother, father and legal guardian – and production chemist Dr Lawrence Hill. ‘But that will change – and fast!’ assures Sandford.
A spin-off from Durham University’s highly regarded Department of Chemistry, Sandford founded Brock to satisfy the growing demand for halo-organic compounds as chemical products and pharmaceutical intermediates. While some would hesitate to launch a new company in this dire economic climate, Sandford believes he has a competitive advantage that will make all the difference – innovative chemical synthesis systems able to create halogenated organic compounds unavailable elsewhere. ‘Our plant was built and optimised over a period of years to enable us to do this. There’s no doubt that this gives us an edge over competition – though we don’t publicise the details as there are patents arising. So we see ourselves as a new and innovative addition to the region’s chem/pharma cluster.’
And the region is an important factor to Sandford, who deliberately chose to base Brock in Durham. ‘North East England has the UK’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical cluster – why would we want to be based anywhere else? It’s good to have a strong supply chain around you and, as our company grows, the location will also help with recruitment. It’s also great for networking, although at the end of the day Brock’s customer base is global, not local.’
Sandford knows it is the time for SMEs to shine: ‘A lot of major companies are – quite rightly – very focused on the job at hand. At present, this means retaining their trading position in a very competitive world and in the face of economic recession. So, quite a lot of innovation will come from smaller companies who punch well above their weight in this regard.’ And that includes Brock.
Brock has been careful to focus their products on compounds that are important to the future of the sector. Take fluorinated organic compounds for example – many pharmaceuticals owe their activity to the fluorine in their structures, and the ability to perform safe operations has been revolutionised by fluorinated anaesthetics. Brock has also developed a range of bromo- and iodo-aromatics, which are crucial materials for palladium-catalysed processes, such as parallel sythesis programmes in drug discovery. Brock can also create highly chlorinated heterocyclic chemicals, which are intermediates in everything from pharmaceuticals to agrochemicals. The result is that the company is not reliant on any single activity area or economic sector.
You can’t succeed in this sector unless your quality systems are of a high standard. That’s something else that keeps you ahead of the competition – credibility and professionalism. Detailed product specification sheets and Certificates of Analysis are the norm and analytical capability is crucial. We’re very lucky in that respect – we have massive and in-depth analytical capability available from Durham University, covering everything from liquid and gas chromatography to NMR, IR, UV-Vis and mass spectroscopy. That’s something that few of our competitors will have.”
This kid learns fast.
Brock Fine Chemicals is a contract manufacturer of halogenated chemicals and intermediates using advanced halogenation techniques rather than conventional multi-step strategies to synthesise fine chemical products. It specialises in the manufacture of three categories of chemical systems to serve R&D requirements:
- Fluoro-aromatic chemicals: intermediates that can have valuable chemical activities and are used in a growing number of commercially valuable applications such as pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, liquid crystals and fibre-reactive dyes.
- Bromo- and iodo-aromatic systems: synthetically versatile compounds often used as starting materials in palladium-catalysed processes, particularly in parallel synthesis programmes within the drug discovery arena.
- Polyfunctional, highly chlorinated aromatic and heteroaromatic systems: intermediates in the synthesis of agrochemicals and materials.
Prof Graham Sandford
Graham Sandford obtained his Ph.D. in Organofluorine Chemistry at Durham University, under the supervision of Prof RD Chambers. After a period as a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratories of Prof George Olah (1994 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, he transferred back to Durham.
He was awarded a prestigious Royal Society Research Fellowship in October 1996, followed by appointment to a Lectureship in the Department of Chemistry at Durham University in 2001. He became a Senior Lecturer in 2004 and was promoted to a Professorial position in 2008.
He has published more than 130 original research papers, review articles and patent applications, mainly in the field of organofluorine chemistry. He collaborates widely with industrial organisations, and his research group has been funded by, for example, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Avecia, Solvay, Asahi Glass, SONY, DSTL, AWE and AkzoNobel over the past ten years.