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October 8, 2003

 

 

Overview of China's Biotin Market

 

An eFeedLink Exclusive Report

 

In recent years, with the emergence of the "mad cow disease" as a result of adding bone meal, viscera, etc into animal feed, developed countries such as the US and Europe have given up using these substances and switched to chemically-synthesised biotin as additives to animal feed. Overnight, biotin has suddenly become a bestseller, quickly becoming the focal point of attention in many countries.

 

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin of the Vitamin B family. It is an important coenzyme for the metabolism of fat and other carboxyl reactions. As an important nutritional supplement, the United Kingdom has recommended that the daily intake of biotin per person to be 10-20 ug, while the US recommendation is 30-100 ug per person per day. Biotin is also an indispensable bio-catalyst for the growth and development of poultry. It has an impact on their growth and development process, weight increase, meat quality, quality of fur, etc.

 

At present, the use of biotin in China is not common, and is mostly limited to the field of medicine. As an additive to animal feed, the quantity of biotin used is very small in the country.

 

The technology involved in the production of biotin is complex, requiring the highest level of technical expertise among the various vitamin products. These include extraction, fermentation and chemical synthesis, etc.

 

The extraction method involves using the aluminum oxide chromatography method to extract biotin from egg yoke, milk, as well as the internal organs of animals such as liver, kidney, pancreas of animals, and the final product would be obtained through distillation and refinement in an air-free environment. As the results of the quantity of biotin produced by the method is small and the costs incurred are high, biotin is mainly used as biological reagent.

 

Biotin obtained through fermentation method involves the fermentation of micro-organisms. This method is not easy to operate and the returns are low. Furthermore, the quality is unstable.

 

The chemical synthesis method involves the condensation with chlorine acetic acid using sodium 2-amino-3-thioacetate as raw materials, and biotin would only be obtained after several consecutive reactions such as acylisation, esterification, hydrolysis, etc.

  

Over the years, studies have been conducted on producing biotin through chemical synthesis. It was not until the 1980's was the problem resolved. Nevertheless, the technology involved in chemical synthesis is complex. With 11 reactions in total, it is very difficult for industralised production of biotin. These difficulties in industrialised scale of production are as follows: 

    • Firstly, quality control is difficult; 
    • Secondly, many steps and procedures are involved in the technology chain, leading to high costs;  
    • Thirdly, the returns are low;  
    • Fourthly, the scale of production is small. 

Even the largest biotin producer in the world is capable of producing only limited quantity each year.

 

Presently, only a few companies in the world, such as Switzerland's Roche, USA's Merck, Japan's Sumitomo Chemical and South Korea's CJ Group possess the technology to produce biotin. Of these, only Roche and Sumitomo Chemical produce biotin in sizable quantities.

 

Roche's production capacity is 35 tons a year, placing it the largest in the world. In recent years, due to a keen demand for biotin in the international market, the prices of this product rose to US$6000 per 1000 grams at one stage. As a result, Roche began to re-engineer its biotin production lines in year 2000, so as to increase its annual capacity to 60 tons. However, the project remains uncompleted to date, due to technical issues and environmental protection concerns.

 

The production capacity of Japan's Sumitomo Chemical is 10 tons per annum. However, the company reportedly lacks competitiveness in the market due to the small production scale, high production costs and necessary technical expertise.

 

At present, companies such as Roche, Sumitomo Chemical and CJ Group are investing large amount of human and material resources to research new techniques for the production of biotin. They also re-engineer and re-develop the current technologies in the hope of increasing their annual output of the product.

  

As the difficulty involved in the production of biotin by chemical synthesis is huge, only a few companies in China use the fermentation method for production.

 

In 1997, Xin Chang Pharmaceuticals in Zhejiang province, China, started looking into the chemical synthesis method. It eventually achieved a breakthrough by reducing the 11-step synthesis method, which is commonly used by foreign companies, to 8 steps. This 8-step synthesis method increases production and cuts production costs at the same time, thereby breaking the technology monopoly of foreign companies.

 

Besides, the method establishes the first production line of biotin by using the chemical synthesis method in China. Thereafter, the company continued to expand its annual production capacity for biotin, reaching that of 40 tons in 2002. Nonetheless, its actual annual production was over 20 tons in 2002, accounting for about one third of the world's output.

 

Most of the biotin produced by Xin Chang Pharmaceuticals was exported. In year 2002, half of its revenue generated from exports is derived from biotin.

 

In addition, a number of companies in China are preparing to invest in the production of biotin. For instance,  

    • Hubei's Guang Ji Pharmaceuticals is investing in a biotin production line of 5 tons in annual capacity;  
    • Henan's Yuan Sheng Pharmaceuticals plans to joint venture with foreign companies to produce biotin;  
    • The d-Biotin chemical synthesis method developed by Sichuan's Mian Zhu Han Wang Huang Lin Co Ltd has been appraised by the provincial technology bureau. Its products have also reached US standards;  
    • Shanghai's Di Sai Nuo Co has also manufactured biotin products.  

However, the output by these companies is relatively small.

 

Although producing biotin is difficult, the market potential is huge. Companies in China are advised that they should, on the one hand, engage in research and development, and strengthen their collaboration with institutes of higher learning and research centres in the hope of creating a unique hi-tech path in the production of biotin.

 

And on the other hand, China's companies should make use of the current opportunity to start up joint ventures with foreign companies during the period when the processing and production of medical and chemical products in the world are increasingly being shifted to China. They should also utilise foreign companies' advanced techniques, so as to turn China into an important production base for biotin to supply the world.

 

It should be noted that when producing biotin through chemical synthesis method, some poisonous chemicals harmful to the environment would be used. Chinese companies are asked to pay attention to this matter when carrying out their research and development.

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