What’s it take to produce new pesticides?

Farmers know a lot about using pesticides. Here’s a chance to learn about how chemical companies dream them up, produce them and market them to you

Have you ever wondered how chemical companies create and launch new pesticides? How much it costs them, how they decide what it will cost you and how they come up with those names?

Well, we were wondering the same thing at Grainews, so we talked to Kelly Bennett. Bennett manages Dow AgroSciences’ cereal broadleaf herbicides portfolio. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about how Dow creates and launches a new product.

1. How long does it take?

How long does it take to launch a new pesticide?

Once Dow has identified a new area of chemistry, it typically takes at least 10 years from idea generation to market launch, Bennett told Grainews.

Dow screens thousands of compounds every year, Bennett said. Many are created theoretically using computer modelling in the discovery phase. Dow then evaluates the most promising active ingredients in growth chambers, looking at efficacy and crop selectivity.

Only about 10 to 20 per cent of these compounds make it past the growth chambers, Bennett said. But as they move through the process, higher and higher proportions of actives advance to the next stage.

About four to six years into the process, a product moves from discovery to development, which Bennett said is a real critical milestone.

“Once you’re in that phase, you’re pretty confident you’re not going to kick it out at any stage,” said Bennett. It’s a critical decision point, Bennett said. “That’s where you’re putting a stake in the ground, where you’re going to start spending big money.”

So how many actives never see the light of day? If you start with several thousand potential new actives, only a few might make it to market, Bennett said.

2. Is it going to make it?

How do you determine whether or not it’s going to market?

Before an active even gets out of the lab, Dow researchers complete toxicology tests to make sure it’s safe to handle. As the product moves through the process, there’s more testing to make sure it meets regulatory requirements in different jurisdictions. Dow also looks at product performance on pests and crop safety.

So how do they figure out what kinds of products they’re looking for?

Dow’s discovery scientists start by identifying key target pests in their global markets. They also need to anticipate farmers’ needs several years down the road, Bennett said. Dow has a base set of weeds that are consistent problems, but they’re also on the lookout for emerging weed issues.

Much of their information on future problem weeds comes from farmers, via Dow’s sales people, who are out in the field. For example, a few months ago a rep sent Bennett a picture of American dragonhead, a plant native to most of Canada and the U.S., according to the USDA.

“One of our products was controlling it. Well, obviously it’s not on our label because it would be difficult to even find it to do any research on,” said Bennett. But it’s now on Dow’s radar, as they figure out whether it’s worth plunking it into their research trials.

Dow also looks at products that make it easier for farmers to get spraying done. “So our most recent products that we’ve launched, we’ve put a real strong emphasis on their performance under a wide range of conditions, whether it’s crop stage, weed stage or climatic conditions,” said Bennett.

3. What’s the biggest challenge?

What’s the biggest challenge to bringing a new pesticide to market?

“Cost is probably one of the biggest challenges,” said Bennett. In 2001, the cost to discover and develop a product was typically about $90 million. Today the cost of bringing a new active to market is typically $250 million.

Usually Dow applies for patents when it’s moving a product from early discovery stages to the stage where it’s being developed more intensely, Bennett said. Patents are protected for 20 years in Canada. That means Dow usually has 10 years left on the patent once a product hits the market.

“So you create a big hole of negative dollars, and then you start selling the products on the market globally. And you have to get return on investment over quite a long period of time. So it’s extremely high risk,” said Bennett.

Regulations are another big challenge, although Bennett said they don’t see regulations as bad. But regulations are complex, there are a lot of them, and they differ between countries.

It’s a two-year review process in Canada, once a company has all its data ready to go, Bennett said. The U.S. is similar to Canada, he added.

“But the European Union has very different requirements and volume of requirements. And countries like Brazil have a very, very long process,” said Bennett.

4. What about those names?

How do you come up with names for the products?

When it came time to debut a new product, traditionally Dow would aim for something that sounded good, was easy to pronounce and reflected the product’s promise, said Bennett.

Often those names were based on real words, such as OcTTain XL.

“When we introduced it, it was targeted for the brown soil zones and it was going to be the highest performing product in the marketplace,” said Bennett.

OcTTain was replacing Attain, so they intentionally misspelled Octane to link the brands, Bennett explained. The capitalized Ts make the brand visually interesting and emphasize that link to Attain. The XL denotes formulated products available in large packages, he added. XC, on the other hand, means a concentrated formulation.

But these days it’s tough to find words that aren’t already registered as trademarks. Dow now works with companies that specialize in creating names.

Dow is also going to global brand names for active ingredients, for consistency, said Bennett. And branding active ingredients helps customers tie together products that have active ingredients in common, he added.

A recent example is Pixxaro, a Group 4 that controls broadleaves. The xxs in Pixxaro link to the x in Arylex, its active ingredient. And Arylex is part of the Arylpicolinates chemical family.

Astute readers will notice that these new brands aren’t based on real words. Bennett said in that respect, they’ve come full circle.

“When you look at some of the early herbicides that were on the market 30-40 years ago, like Treflan, Lorsban and Lontrel, those were all made-up words,” said Bennett.

Made-up words take more work to establish as brands, but they’re more memorable in the long-term, said Bennett. For example, Treflan was a very strong brand in its day, he added.

“People turned it into a verb. They’d say, ‘I’m going Treflaning.’”

5. How do you know if it works?

How do you make sure the new product will work for farmers?

Local research and development is built into the process, from the early days to product launch, and beyond.

Once Dow researchers have made sure a new active is safe to handle, they do very early screening studies in Western Canada, Bennett said. Those studies help them figure out the fit for new products and technologies. It also keeps Dow’s local people engaged in the process, he said, and ensures their customers are represented.

Dow has research farms in Saskatoon, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Dow’s people also work with co-operating farmers to expand the weed and soil zones they’re working, said Bennett.

Just before launch, Dow applies for research authorizations from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Those authorizations allow them to do field-scale trials with farmers before registering the product. The trials range from 40 to 160 acres, Bennett said.

“That way you’re getting hands-on experience with the farmer in commercial equipment.” Farmers give feedback on product performance in the sprayer, weed control and crop safety, Bennett added.

Dow also surveys farmers who’ve used the product in the first year of launch, Bennett said. These surveys pick up farmers’ satisfaction along with any outstanding issues. They also help Dow adjust things like package size, Bennett said.

6. What’s it cost?

How do you set a price?

When setting a price, they have to remember that competitors will be able to launch generics in 10 years or so. Dow probably won’t have recouped its investment costs before then.

So Dow sets a price that allows farmer to make a good return on investment from using the product, Bennett said. They look at existing products and figure out whether their new product will deliver more.

“It really has to be competitive within that set of products that are on the market today. And you just fit it in as best as you can,” said Bennett.

7. What’s next?

What types of pesticides do you think will be hitting the market in 10 years?

Farmers can expect more fungicides in the next decade. It’s an active area of development for many companies in Western Canada, Bennett said.

Dow doesn’t have a major fungicide on the market right now, but it does have an active research program, with products expected within 10 years, he said. Just as with herbicides, novel modes of action are important for resistance management, Bennett added.

As for herbicides, Dow is looking for new modes of action and modes of action that work in different weed classes. For example, researchers might take a mode of action from grass weeds and move it into broadleaf weeds. Dow also tries to create herbicides with multiple modes of action for broadleaves to help delay resistant weed development.

Asked about biopesticides, Bennett said they’ve looked into them, and they’d like to see them work. But there are a couple of problems with biopesticides. For one, they need moisture to work.

“If you’ve got a fungus that’s going to tackle a specific weed, as an example, you’ve got to have the right conditions. And if you don’t have those, you’re going to have complete failure,” said Bennett.

The other problem is that by applying a biopesticide, you’re releasing an organism that isn’t natural to that environment, Bennett added. The ag industry could end up with a scenario similar to rabbits in Australia.

“That whole area is very challenging. You have a lot more control and a lot more specificity when you’re working in the traditional areas of crop protection development.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.


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