A West Lafayette contract drug manufacturing company is relaunching itself, and says it’s now poised to serve its sweet spot in the market: helping early-stage drug discovery companies prepare pharmaceuticals for clinical trials and commercialization. Originally established as the Chao Center to provide hands-on experience for Purdue University pharmaceutical students and contract manufacturing for the drug industry, it weathered a rough patch around 2009. The organization has now rebranded itself as the Purdue GMP Center (PGC) and plans to capitalize on a hot contract drug manufacturing market.

“There’s a vast amount of money and resources being devoted to pharmaceutical development in the U.S.—much of it early-stage development,” says PGC Chief Executive Officer Michael Chao. “These small companies often have a difficult time getting the attention of large contract manufacturers. We’re a small operation and pride ourselves on the flexibility, willingness and desire to work with these development-stage companies to get their products into clinical trials or the market.”

A $5 million gift from alumni Allen Chao and his wife, Lee-Hwa Chao (Michael’s parents), established the Chao Center in 2004 at the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette. The center operated under the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) and grew to about 30 employees. However, after the recession and other shifts in its operation, it was whittled down in 2010 to just a handful of core employees “who are still with us today,” says Chao.

The Chao family purchased the center from PRF about one year ago, and is now reinventing it as a standalone business, separate from Purdue.

“But we maintain a close working relationship with the university,” says Chao. “We continue to explore collaborative opportunities with the faculty and pharmaceutical research efforts, and we eventually hope to bring students back into the facility and fulfill that educational role that it was originally set up for.”

Chao believes PGC’s ties with the university and its Purdue Research Park location are among the strongest selling points to fuel its rebirth.

“We’ve said we’re in the process of spinning ourselves out, so to speak, from PRF, now that we’re a standalone entity,” says Chao. “But being in the park has significant advantages for us; we’re able to leverage back office support from PRF, and the park is home to numerous companies in the pharmaceutical space. We feel there will be a time when we’re able to assist in their growth.”

In addition to continuing its collaboration with Purdue and PRF, PGC is looking to large pharmaceutical companies for contract work. Chao says pharmaceutical giants often don’t have the capacity or desire to produce some of their own drugs.

Throughout its varied past, PGC has consistently produced Seromycin, a drug developed by Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. PGC is the only manufacturer in the U.S. that produces the antibiotic.

“PGC prides itself on being a responsible corporate citizen; this is a life-saving pharmaceutical,” says Chao. “Thankfully, it’s for a very small population in the U.S., but as long as it’s needed, we’ll continue to manufacture a supply for the market.”

Chao says the key to PGC’s relaunch is investing in its foundation; the purchase of new lab equipment is growing its infrastructure, and the company is focused on hiring additional personnel. Chao notes PGC prides itself on helping pharmaceutical manufacturers “solve problems.”

“We’ve launched a business development effort to spread the news that PGC is back and ready to help pharmaceutical companies make products and tackle their challenges. We’re meeting with companies to understand their needs and assess how we can assist,” says Chao. “We believe in our location, the people, and that there’s a viable long-term business that can be had here.”

Chao describes the operational shifts and current rebuilding phase underway at PGC.

Chao says PGC’s team and university collaboration make it stand out from other drug contract manufacturers.

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