The first step in creating new drugs is to find a chemical compound that could cure an illness. In the past, it might have taken a dedicated researcher a week in the laboratory to produce a single compound at a cost of £8,000. Now, thousands of these compounds can be developed every week at a cost of about £8 each. Genevac has built its success on assisting in the automation of ‘compound chemistry’. It makes machines that allow the mass evaporation of compounds, thus increasing the probability that the drugs companies will find a potential winner. Founded in 1990 by Michael Cole, a physicist-entrepreneur, Genevac supplies many of the world’s drug companies with machines costing between £23,000 and £150,000 each. Although it is based in Suffolk, more than half the sales come from its American office, with overall turnover climbing 125% a year, from £628,000 in 1996 to £7.2m in 1999. In April the firm was sold to the American chemical company Sybron for an undisclosed sum.
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