Johnson Matthey has played an important role in the development of platinum based drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, which are used for the chemotherapy treatment of cancers

From the first steps of initial discovery and screening, through scale up to commercial production, Johnson Matthey has established a strong reputation in the highly regulated environment of platinum anticancer active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

It's close to half a century since the activity of certain platinum compounds as anticancer agents was first noted. This discovery prompted interest amongst the research community to further understand the activity of platinum compounds towards cancer cells.

In the early 1970s Johnson Matthey was among a group of research scientists in the UK who shared an interest in developing a platinum drug as a cancer medicine. This work led to the successful launch of the first platinum anticancer compound, cisplatin, in the UK in 1979.

After the success of this first launch, but with cisplatin having some unwanted side effects, Johnson Matthey and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers, in conjunction with the Institute of Cancer Research in London, set out to select a second generation candidate. Many compounds were tested during the development and trials of cisplatin but one compound, which would be later known as carboplatin, had lower toxicity and increased water solubility compared to cisplatin and demonstrated particularly encouraging activity. This activity was the decisive factor that prompted further research

The road to commercialisation

The journey of a new drug from conception to launch is a long, complex and extremely regulated process. Many compounds were synthesised and screened in laboratory studies during the development of carboplatin to evaluate their performance in ways that were indicative of their behaviour in the body. A positive outcome to a myriad of tests was required before a compound was selected to advance to the next stage. Further rigorous tests were carried out and data collated and submitted to the regulator for final consideration.

During development, Johnson Matthey supplied the active platinum compound used in carboplatin to Bristol-Myers for formulation, and they made the drug available to hospitals. Doctors at the Royal Marsden Hospital, helped by their experience in the development of cisplatin, were able to progress the new product rapidly to regulatory approval for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Carboplatin was launched in the UK in April 1986 and in 1991 Johnson Matthey, The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital were honoured with a joint Queen's Award for Technology for this achievement.

Carboplatin goes Stateside

Carboplatin was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 1989 and by that time, Johnson Matthey had firmly established an API manufacturing business in the country, at its facility in West Deptford, New Jersey. That same year, Johnson Matthey and Bristol-Myers Squibb entered into a supply agreement in which Johnson Matthey would be the exclusive supplier of the carboplatin API to Bristol-Myers Squibb worldwide for the life of the patents. Johnson Matthey received a proportion of the royalties during the patented period which expired during the late 1990s.

Johnson Matthey continues to manufacture the carboplatin API at its West Deptford facility for the generic market although our involvement in platinum anticancer research ceased some years ago.

However, research by others continues and as their knowledge and understanding grows, we hope that new technologies will be discovered and new treatments become available, thanks to the pioneering research and development carried out by Johnson Matthey and its partners