December 2007



Thecommercialchemist

In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover DuPont’s Kevlar boost, the EU’s first one-a-day combination HIV pill, and a biodiesel plant to be built in Wales.

Chemical Industry

Water-based anti-graffiti coating:
Bayer has developed a chemical- and graffiti-resistant polyurethane coating for commercial vehicles, trains and industrial goods that is supplied as a water-based rather than a solvent-based dispersion. Bayer says that coatings are also very resistant to scratches and weathering. The company says graffiti removal costs €500 million (£360 million) each year in Germany alone.

DuPont Kevlar expansion:
DuPont is to invest $500 million (£252 million) at it’s Cooper River, South Carolina site to expand its Kevlar production capacity by 25 per cent. The company will also invest $50 million in its Kevlar polymer production plant in Virginia. The combined investment will be the largest production capacity increase since the fibre hit the market in 1965. As well as bullet- and stab-proof clothing, the strong but lightweight fibre’s use is growing in applications from tyres and reinforced tubing to honeycomb structures for next generation aircraft.

Industrial gases:
Germany‘s Linde Group has set up a joint venture with Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation to supply industrial gases to the Emirate. The first phase of the project will be to construct a $65 million air separator plant to produce nitrogen, plus liquefied nitrogen and oxygen. Meanwhile, Air Liquide of France will build three new air separation units, one of which will supply ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel manufacturer, with oxygen, nitrogen, argon and compressed gas at its sites in northern France to meet growing demand for steel.

Medical and Pharmaceuticals

One-a-day HIV drugs:
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Gilead Sciences have received EU approval of Atripla, their one-a-day combination HIV drug, before the end of 2007. The treatment, which is already approved in the US and Canada, combines BMS’s antiretroviral Sustiva (efavirenz) with Gilead drugs Emtriva (emtricitabine) and Viread (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate). Atripla is the first once-daily, single tablet treatment for HIV in the EU.

Galvus closes in on EU approval:
Novartis has received European backing for a low-dose prescriptions of type 2 diabetes drug Galvus. The medicine initially received EU approval, in 50mg and 100mg doses, in September 2007, but in November Novartis delayed the launch after concerns over the liver safety of the higher dose. The European Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use has issued a positive opinion on 50mg doses of the drug, and full EU approval is expected within three months. Like Merck’s already approved Januvia, Galvus doesn’t cause weight gain, a common side effect of earlier diabetes drugs.

Amgen bone drug boost:
Denosumab, Amgen‘s bone density improvement drug, successfully increased bone density in Phase III trials of patients taking hormone blockers to treat breast cancer. Loss of bone density is a side-effect of cancer treatments involving aromatase inhibitors – but the effect was reversed in patients who received a denosumab injection every six months during treatment. Analysts have predicted that the drug, a monoclonal antibody, could make up to $2 billion in annual sales – welcome news for a company hit by falling sales and safety concerns surrounding blockbuster anemia drugs Epogen and Aranesp.

Medical imaging sale:
Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed to sell its medical imaging business to private equity firm Avista for $525 million. The unit supplies products for nuclear and ultrasound imaging procedures. BMS says the sale is part of the company’s strategy to become a biopharma company, and plans to reinvest the proceeds in research, development and commercialisation of new pharmaceuticals.

Thai drug talks end:
Talks between the Thai government and drug makers Novartis, Sanofi-aventis and Roche over cheaper access to cancer medicines ended without agreement. Government officials say the country will copy the drugs, or buy them from generics manufacturers in India, because the companies won’t make the price low enough.

Eil Lilly swaps heads:
Sidney Taurel, CEO of Eli Lilly, is to retire on 31 March 2008, and will be replaced by John Lechleiter, who originally jointed the company as an organic chemist in 1979. Lechleiter, unanimously elected to head the company, has been Lilly’s president and chief operating officer since 2005.

AZ goes direct to pharmacy:
AstraZeneca is to follow Pfizer’s lead and set up a ‘direct-to-pharmacy’ distribution deal for its drugs. All the companies medicines will be sold through two distributors, AAH and UniChem, from February. Just last week, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading said such deals could cost the National Health Service millions of pounds.

Strategic alliance:
GSK has entered a strategic alliance with Danish biotech firm Santaris Pharma to discover, develop and commercialise RNA-based antiviral medicines. Santaris will grant GSK options on drug candidates from four viral disease programmes, in return for up to $700 million in upfront fees and if certain drug development milestones are met.

Energy

Ocean seeding plans sunk?:
Carbon sequestration company Planktos, who plan to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by fertilising the ocean to trigger phytoplankton blooms, has hit troubles. The company‘s ship was denied access to port in the Canary Islands, and the organisation has also run short of funds, putting the controversial ocean-seeding operation on hold.

Welsh biofuel go-ahead:
Canada‘s Flex Fuel Energy has received planning permission to build a biodiesel refinery at the Port of Cardiff, Wales. The company had already received consent to build an adjacent oilseed crush and solvent extraction plant. The company is planning an integrated, 200,000 tonne-per-year facility, to be built by the specialised engineering group Lurgi. In November, approval was also granted for Wales to become home to the world’s largest biomass-fueled power station, to be built by Prenergy at Port Talbot.

Mining and Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals in paradise:
Netherlands-based Basell Polyolefins has entered a memorandum of understanding to build a world-scale, integrated polypropylene complex with the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago and the National Energy Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago. The 450,000 tonne-per-year Trinidad and Tobago-based plant is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

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In this news article on Chemistry World, the authors claim that “This is the first visual evidence of storage and retrieval of light for a long and controllable duration – in all other reports, storage time of photons is restricted to a few nanoseconds” I hope this claim won’t be repeated in the final published article, because it is totally inaccurate. See for example with controlled storage times of seconds.

It is also a bit strange that the only reference to this work is “Current Science 2007, 98, 1071”, the online version of which was last updated in early 2007 to volume 92. Where can I read more???

I would have thought Chemistry World could do better than this.

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A friend of mine told me that he had started taking resveratrol based on a doctors suggestion about six weeks ago. My friend was experiencing chronic fatigue
and was having trouble sleeping. I asked him how it was working out and he said that he was taking a type of resveratrol called biotivia transmax and that after two weeks the results were subtle but undeniable. He said that he had more energy during the day, was more alert throughout the day and was sleeping less but waking up more refreshed. So based on his experience I decided to give it a try. I have had similiar results after just one week. It is only recently that I have heard about it anti-aging benefits.
There is something to this resveratrol, I have no idea if I will live longer but I can tell you that I am living better now.

One comment I suggest:

According to Wikipedia, Consumer Lab, an independent dietary
supplement and over the counter products evaluation organization,
published a report on 13 November 2007 on the popular resveratrol
supplements. The organization reported that there exists a wide range
in quality, dose, and price among the 13 resveratrol products
evaluated. The actual amount of resveratrol contained in the
different brands range from 2.2mg for Revatrol, which claimed to have
400mg of “Red Wine Grape Complex”, to 500mg for Biotivia Transmax,
which is consistent with the amount claimed on the product’s label.
Prices per 100mg of resveratrol ranged from less than $.30 for
products made by Biotivia, Jarrow, and Country life, to a high of
$45.27 for the Revatrol brand. None of the products tested were found
to have significant levels of heavy metals or other contaminants.

Dave Thomas

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I am a junior student working in a research group with a reputation for being clean, using green chemistry. However in reality I personally use about 100ml of petrochemicals per day including dichloromethane (DCM), trichloromethane (chloroform), methanol, chloroform. All are dependent on oil and gas that is running out at an increasing rate and its scarcity is causing violence and hunger around the world. You see crop protection and fertilisers are essentially made from energy borrowed from fossil fuels. How much energy goes into the food we eat? I have attempted to calculate my carbon footprint and thanks to not driving, not flying, and being vegetarian and organic, it comes out at a sustainable rate. Yet the irony is that we are still going to face catastrophic global warming if others do not copy. I have not seen evidence that the chemistry I do is cleaner when it is scaled up. In my laboratory work, I don’t recycle my waste and potentially it does a lot of damage..

Please don’t do chemistry unless it is green chemistry.

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The FDA yesterday released a ruling that instructed manufacturers of spermicide gels, sold without prescripton, that contain nonoxynol- 9 to include a warning stating that the products do not protect against HIV.

In fact, clinical evidence has shown that these topical gels actually increase the risk of HIV transmission.

N-9 was one of the first microbicides to inspire hope as a potentially cheap, easy to use addition to the HIV arsenal, since, in laboratory tests, the it kills the HIV virus and other common sexually transmitted infections.

But as far back as 1998, questions started to be asked about its ability to protect against STIs in a clinical setting.

In one dramatic disappointment, a phase III trial carried out in Africa, the results of which were released in 2000, showed that the use of N-9 products could increase the risk of HIV transmission by up to 50 per cent. The researchers’ analysis of the data collected during the trial revealed that, the more frequently women used only N-9 gel (without a condom) to protect themselves, the higher their risk of becoming infected. This is probably because the gel caused irritation of mucous membranes.

Manufacturers of these products do not endorse them as stand-alone protection against sexually transmitted diseases, but it has taken almost eight years to transfer clinical data into a simple warning label. It’s already more than three years since the FDA proposed the warning in the first place, according to a Reuters report.

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Just three years ago, a global shortage of the antimalarial natural product artemisinin alarmed medics fighting the killer disease, and spurred scientists who were developing alternative sources of the drug.

Yet a glut of the compound has now saturated the market to such a degree that prices have slumped, threatening to put some Chinese drug manufacturers out of business. And Africa – where around a million children die of malaria every year – still isn’t getting enough of the drug.

Read the full story here.

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No change at the top in the latest update of the h-index chemistry league table (first published by Chemistry World in April 2007) – but it is noteworthy that George Whitesides (140) has now passed the late Sir John Pople to achieve the highest chemist’s h-index of all time. No doubt his score will continue to rise – but does that mean a Nobel Prize is in the offing, or is he too much of a polymath?

For more on the h-index – an attempt at a fair measure of research achievement – see the original report here and blog updates here.

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Bruce Alberts, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California – San Francisco, is to be editor-in-chief of the journal Science from 1 March. Alberts is president emeritus of the US National Academy of Sciences and chaired the National Research Council between 1993 and 2005.
He succeeds Donald Kennedy, president emeritus of Stanford University and a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who became Science editor-in-chief on 1 June 2000 and plans to retire at the end of February.

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Thecommercialchemist

In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover billion dollar joint ventures and acquisitions, raids by competition authorities, and biofuels from algae.

Chemical Industry

Multi-billion dollar deal:
Dow is to sell 50 per cent of its plastics business to Kuwait Petroleum, setting up an $11 billion (£5.4 billion) joint venture. Dow will receive $9.5 billion for the stake, which it says it will use to buy companies in the faster growing speciality chemicals sector. Western companies have struggled in the low growth plastics business – earlier in 2007, General Electric sold its plastics business to another cash-rich middle-eastern oil company, Saudi petrochemcials group Sabic.
Meanwhile, US chemicals firm Huntsman has agreed to build a $280 million chemicals plant with Saudi Arabia’s al-Zamil Group, in a 50-50 joint venture.

Nufarm deal off:
The exclusivity period that followed the agreement that Australia’s Nufarm be bought by a China National Chemical-led consortium has ended without the Chinese group submitting a formal bid. However, agrochemicals company Nufarm said it has been approached by a number of other parties since the consortium bid was first announced.

Eastman quiting PET:
Indorama Polymers of Thailand has agreed to buy Eastman Chemical’s PET plants in the UK and the Netherlands, for up to €65 million (£47 million). The deal follows Eastman’s divestiture of two PET facilities in Mexico and Argentina to Mexican company Alfa.

Catalytic activation:
UK catalyst and fine chemical company Johnson Matthey has agreed to buy catalyst group Argillon for €214 million. Johnson Matthey says the German group is a leader in catalysts which control NO­x emissions, from diesel-engined vehicles to power stations, a technology complemetary to their own.

Lanxess into rubber:
German firm Lanxess will but a 70 per cent, controlling stake in Brazilian rubber group Petroflex, for a provisional price of €198 million. Petroflex, the largest synthetic rubber producer in Latin America and one of the largest in the world, had sales of €500 million in 2006, and has a market value of $466 million. Lanxess, spun off from Bayer in 2005, is already a major synthetic rubber producer.

Chemical competition raid:
The UK’s largest privately owned chemicals group, Ineos, and Norway’s Norsk Hydro have had their UK offices raided by the European Commission competition authorities. Ineos is in the process of buying Norsk Hydro’s polymers division for 5.5 billion Norwegian crowns (£496 million), but the European Commission was not due to formally approve the deal until February 18. The raid on several UK premises was part of an investigation to establish if there had been an exchange of information between the two companies, which may be in breach of EC treaty rules outlawing cartels. Both companies say that they have complied with EC regulations and will cooperate with the investigation, according to a report in the Times

Medical and Pharmaceuticals

Higher drug costs?:
The UK’s Office of Fair Trading has found that exclusive drug distribution deals, such as the agreement between Pfizer and distributor Unichem, pose a ‘significant risk’ of raising drug costs. Pfizer claims the agreement is a way to tackle the rise of fake medicines, and hasn’t increased the costs – but the OFC report said the deal could cost the NHS millions of pounds. Other pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis and AstraZeneca, are also considering changing their distribution channels.

pills

A better blood thinner:
US drug giants Bayer and Johnson&Johnson may be on the verge of a new blood-thinning blockbuster, as their jointly formulated anti-clotting agent has achieved significantly better results, in a phase III clinical trial, than the current standard treatment. In a study of patients after hip surgery, Bayer and J&J’s experimental pill rivaroxaban led to fewer blood clots and deaths than Sanofi Aventis’ widely used injected medicine Lovenox (enoxaparin). According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, out of 4541 patients, 1.1 per cent of those taking rivaroxaban suffered serious blood clots or died, compared to 3.7 per cent given Lovenox.
The Sanofi Aventis blood thinner has been a best-seller for the company, generating $3.5 billion in sales in 2006, according to a Bloomerg report. Bayer described the results of this trial as ‘genuinely exciting’ is now pushing to seize a share in the market.

MGI sold:
Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai is to buy US firm MGI Pharma for $3.9 billion in cash. The MGI board backed the deal unanimously, Eisai said. The acquisition will improve Eisai’s anti-cancer drug portfolio and pipeline.

High profile trial:
US pharmaceutical company Merck has said it will start Phase III trials for anacetrapib, a drug that raises HDL, so-called good cholesterol, and lowers LDL, or bad cholesterol. Any such drug that makes it to market is a likely blockbuster – but Pfizer’s torcetrapib, in the same drug class, surprisingly failing Phase III trials, having cost the company almost a billion dollars to develop and test.

Coughing up:
British group Reckitt Benckiser has agreed to buy US pharmaceutical company Adams Respiratory Therapeutics in a $2.3 billion cash deal. Buying Adams gives Reckitt entry into the US market, and ownership of two cough mixture brands, currently sold only in the US.

Novartis to cut more jobs:
Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis has said it will cut 2500 jobs worldwide, as part of a global restructuring. The $450 million restructure was announced just months after the company said it would cut 1260 sales staff, primarily in the US.

GSK’s R&D heads east:
GlaxoSmithKline will spend $100 million developing a neuroscience research centre in China. The Shanghai facility will become GSK’s sole research centre for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The company plans to have 1000 scientists working at the centre within six years. Several other pharma firms, including AstraZeneca and Novartis, are also investing in Chinese R&D sites.

Energy

Algal fuels:
Shell and HR Biopetroleum have announced they will build a pilot plant in Hawaii to produce biofuels from algae. Shell says algae are promising biofuel producers because they grow rapidly, contain high levels of oils and can be cultivated in large tanks of seawater, minimising their impact on agricultural land and fresh water supplies.

Tank for algae

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Interesting comments from Moncef Slaoui, the head of R&D at GSK, in the Financial Times today. With the recent controversies surrounding high-profile drugs such as torcetrapib and avandia, one might think that pharmaceutical companies should ask more questions about their products before they get to the market. Take a little more time, be a little more cautious: the safety-first approach.

Not so, says Slaoui. He argues that companies do ask too many questions about their drugs. According to the FT: ‘In every single project we look at we could have reached the critical decision with … 50-60 per cent fewer experiments. In a bureaucracy … if you ask more questions, no one will blame you for not asking them. But we just can’t afford it. In the modern world we … generate lots of information we don’t know what to do with.’

Slaoui discussed a principle he refers to as ‘educated intuition’, where specialists authorise only the questions and experiments necessary to test whether a drug is safe and effective. The concept fits into GSK’s strategy of reducing experiments and splitting its R&D into smaller units, in order to make drugs ‘cheaper and faster’ to develop.

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