Monday, April 24, 2017

What happened to all the sparteine?, 2017 edition

Also in this week's C&EN, a really fun and informative article by Stephen K. Ritter on the aftermath of the Great Sparteine Shortage of 2010. It sounds like TCI America has taken this problem on: 
A few clues in the case of the missing (–)-sparteine did turn up during C&EN’s investigation. The compound has been found in two places: U.S.-based chemical suppliers Sigma-Aldrich and TCI America report having small quantities available. Sigma-Aldrich sales representatives say they have no idea what is happening with the (–)-sparteine supply chain and can’t disclose its source. The company lists (–)-sparteine from $50 per 0.5 g and up, depending on the grade and amount. 
At TCI, R&D Manager Sriramurthy Vardhineedi has a bit more to share. In 2011, when TCI recognized the shortage, the company developed a proprietary procedure to produce kilogram quantities of high-purity (–)-sparteine as needed, Vardhineedi says. TCI is possibly the world’s only current commercial producer, he notes. (–)-Sparteine remains in high demand, Vardhineedi adds, but he points out it is expensive. TCI offers the compound at $98 per gram and up, depending on the amount. 
As to what happened to the supply after 2010? “We are guessing that some company decided to stop making this valuable chiral alkaloid without realizing they were the sole supplier,” Vardhineedi says.
I would really like to know what caused the shortage - and here's hoping that we don't have to wait another 7 years to find the answer! 

8 comments:

  1. I had the pleasant experience of (-)-sparteine being used very early in my total synthesis back when it disappeared in 2010. I spent months trying to find another chiral base that would work in the reaction. I distilled numerous black, crusty, age-old bottles of the stuff I found around the department and elsewhere. I called every supplier possible looking for more. In the end, I had to scrap 2 years of work and redesign the synthesis from scratch when I ran out of front-end material inches away from the finish line. Not a fun experience relaying that info to my PI.

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    1. On days like that, you learn a lot about your PI.

      I hope it went well.

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  2. Imagine having a monopoly and not knowing about it! What a world.

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  3. A circumstance I have seen happen is a Big Pharma has a project that requires an advanced intermediate where they approach several small vendors for potential supplies. Based on highly optimistic forecast and indirect promises of great profits one CMO will produce multikilos of the target on spec. As often happen, end compound takes a bad turn and hyped requirements dry up. To recoup part the investment they sell stocks to Aldrich and other catalog suppliers (at large discount), who of course charge large mark-ups of rare materials. Unfortunately if future interest development the original supplier is no longer known or still in business so have to start from scratch. It also may be a reflection that frequently good science types don't always make best business decisions, especially when up against business and deceptive practices that are part of own-profit first relationships.

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    1. I work at a moderate-sized CRO. We've had three big pharma companies come to us, two of which had very large promises attached to come back to us after the work was complete. Not only did they not come back but all three projects did not work as smoothly as they claimed and when asking for extra money due to extended work times, the responses were always something to the tune of "you should be lucky to have our work in the first place".

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    2. Its not only the arrogance but the blatant dishonesty that some companies choose as norm. Yes we all know what "stuff" rolls down hills and in many cases the CROs are at the bottom in this industry, unless wish to include grad and undergrad students who get assigned into making materials for outsiders or even more senior people in their own academic labs where reward is "education" and if really lucky maybe beer and pizza when finished a "project" (if that goal is ever accomplished). (Not to say such activity can not be good initial training but rarely is the effort and time devoted proportional to the gains)

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  4. The (-)-sparteine demand will hopefully inspire or goad a disgruntled grad student or postdoc to chuck their current work (while appearing not to) and stealthily develop a simple synthesis for it.

    Check with Number Six. The original supplier may have been in The Village.

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    1. Oakwood: (+)sparteine freebase $240/10g. Never underestimate the agility of Chinese CROs

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