Outsourced Chemistry Shop, BioBlocks, Sees Growth in San Diego and Hungary
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are about 30 to 40 percent lower there than in San Diego, although it’s still more expensive than in China or India, Pallai says.
The way he counteracts the lower-price competitors is through personally serving as a liaison between customers he meets in Southern California, and the chemistry group he oversees in Hungary. One example where he plays that ambassador role is with Valencia, CA-based Mannkind (NASDAQ: MNKD) which is working on an inhaled form of insulin for diabetes.
BioBlocks doesn’t identify all its customers, but Pallai has had some modest success in making this pitch. BioBlocks grew to about $2 million in revenue in 2007, and expects 30 to 50 percent annual growth in 2008, he says.
BioBlocks thinks this market will continue to expand, as venture capitalists put more pressure on their biotech investments to remain “virtual.” That means hiring a small group of managers to oversee product development at a company, but essentially finding contract shops like BioBlocks to perform most of the work for a finite period of time. As long as BioBlocks can maintain several contracts at once, Pallai says his business can survive downturns much better than the average biotech that is betting the farm on one or two products. “I work with six companies. If I lose one leg from the stool, I still have a fairly stable situation,” Pallai says.
The work may be steady, but getting the contracts in the first place isn’t easy. Pallai says he’s always feeling the heat from low-cost chemistry shops in China. But interestingly, the Chinese competitors have become two to three times as expensive for U.S. customers as they were four years ago, because competition for talent there is driving up wages, Pallai says.
Ultimately, Pallai sees stable work for his team of chemists in Hungary, and a reliable way for San Diego biotechs to get vital work done without having to hire (and likely fire) new chemists every few years. “Outsourcing has a bad name, and certain segments of it make more sense than others,” Pallai says. “I can see us helping to change the drug development model in San Diego.”