Thecommercialchemist

In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover new ventures in biofuels and catalysis, the first successful human clinical trial of a gene-silencing drug, and the accidental escape of some GM corn seeds.

Chemical Industry

Bayer Results:
Bayer‘s 2007 sales grew to €32.4 billion (£24.7 billion), a 11.8 per cent rise on 2006, with company CEO Werner Wenning describing 2007 as the company’s best year ever. The company’s net earnings also rose, to €4.7 billion. Bayer says it expects sales to grow by 5 per cent during 2008.

Biofuels grant:
Netherlands-based DSM has won a US Department of Energy grant to lead a consortium to develop enzymes for bioproduct and biofuel formation. The grant, the size of which has not yet been disclosed, will fund research into biorefineries based on cellulosic feedstocks. US research labs at Los Alamos and Sandia will also participate in the project.

Smaller chips:
Computing giant IBM has announced it will partner with US speciality chemicals firm Rohm and Haas to develop technologies for 32nm and smaller circuitry. The partners will investigate chemical mechanical planarisation and ion implantation.

IBM chip

Playing tag:
German chemical companies BASF and Evonik are among a consotrium of firms who have joined a German government-backed project to develop printable RFID tags. Developing printed electronic technoogy is expected to reduce the cost of the tags, which work like a radio frequency bar code, to a price level at which they could be incorporated into cheaper consumer goods.

Lanxess rubber expansion:
German speciality chemicals group Lanxess are to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year butyl rubber plant in Singapore, to be commissioned in 2011. The €400 million plant, the largest in the company’s history, will be directly connected to a neighbouring Shell refinery, which will supply raw materials.

Catalysis centre opens:
A research centre intended to develop new catalytic processes has been opened in Aachen, Germany. The Catalysis Center Aachen will be the home of a research collaboration between local university RWTH Aachen and chemicals giant Bayer, the latter having invested over €7 million in the project.

Pharmaceuticals

RNAi human proof of concept
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals say they have completed the world’s first human trial to demonstrate an effective therapeutic based on RNA interference. During the Phase II trial, 88 volunteers were deliberately exposed to a respiratory virus, and half were then given an RNAi nasal spray designed to silence one of the virus’s genes. 67 per cent of the participants given the drug contracted the virus, compared to 88 per cent who received a placebo. The virus is rarely fatal in healthy young adults, although it causes 17,000 deaths in the elderly each year in the US.

Novartis trial success:
Novartis has stopped its Phase III clinical trial for experimental kidney cancer drug everolimus early, after an independent committee found the drug successfully prevents the cancer from progressing. Those patients receiving placebo during the trail will now be switched to the active drug. Novartis plans to file for regulatory approval for the drug in the second half of 2008. Analysts predict the drug, one of a new generation of target cancer therapies, could become a blockbuster if Novartis are able to show the drug also works in more widespread cancers such as lung or breast.

FDA heparin inspection:
The US FDA have completed their inspections of the Chinese plant that supplied most of the active ingredients for US-based Baxter’s now withdrawn blood thinner heparin. While the regulator noted lapses in the manufacturer’s quality-control, the reason for the bad reactions to the drug experienced by patients haven’t been discovered – which may be unrelated to the ingredient supplier.

Second lung cancer trial halted:
Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has stopped clinical trials for lung cancer drug Recetin – just a week after Bayer and Onyx stopped their own lung cancer trial for Nexavar. In AZ’s case, the drug appeared to have clinical activity, but the trial was stopped due to toxicity problems. Analysts have said the toxicity issues may be overcome by changing dosage, and AZ say they remain comitted to developing the drug for lung cancer.

Avastin approval:
Genentech have won FDA approval for their breast cancer drug Avastin – despite the FDA’s own advisory panel’s recommendation in December that the drug be rejected. The panel had narrowly voted not to recommend the drug because data provided by Genentech had not shown that the drug’s benefits outweighed its toxicity risks. Avastin is already a blockbuster colon and lung cancer drug.

HRT verdict:
In a trial in Arkansas, US, jurors have found that an local woman’s breast cancer was caused by a combination of Provera (made by Pharmacia, which is now owned by Pfizer) and Wyeth‘s Premarin. The two companies have been ordered to pay $2.75 million (£1.39 million) in damages. Wyeth currently faces over 5,000 similar cases, and has lost four of the seven trials that have come to court so far.

Agrochemicals

Dow AgroSciences has informed the US EPA and FDA that during 2006 and 2007 it sold a corn seed mix inadvertently contaminated with unregistered genetically modified corn seeds. The EPA has established that the proteins produced by the GM seed are identical to those produced by a registered seed, which already has food safety clearance. In 2005, Switzerland’s Syngenta was fined $375,000 for accidentally mis-labeling and then selling an unapproved seed.

Energy

BP green investment:
BP is to spend $1.5 billion on its Alternative Energy business this year, which encompasses wind power, solar and biofuels. The company says the investment is an acceleration of its long term, $8 billion plan for the company, and that it is looking to grow the business primarily for its equity. However, BP says it has no immediate plans to sell the business.

Fuel cell commercialisation:
Australia’s Cermaic Fuel Cells has won a 50,000 order for its domestic combined heat and power (CHP) units from Dutch energy company Nuon. Ceramic Fuel intends to build a €12.4 million manufacturing plant in German, with capacity to build 160,000 units per year, to meet demand.

Fuel Cell

Biofuel value added:
China Biodiesel has announced an increase in production of higher-value plastics feedstocks, as profit margins on biodiesel shrink due to the rising costs of feedstock and the Chinese government’s regulation of fuel prices.

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