March 2009



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AstraZeneca has unveiled new findings from its Jupiter clinical trial which show that its blockbuster anticholesterol statin drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) significantly reduces the risk of dangerous blood  clots forming. These can cause conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).

DVT and PE are both caused by the formation of blood clots in a vein, which disrupts the flow of blood to the heart or lungs – a condition known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). The study of 17,802 patients with ‘low to normal’ levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol showed those patients with increased levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (a biomarker linked to cardiovascular disease) could have their risk of suffering from VTE cut by 43 per cent. (more…)

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In this week’s business round up, we cover the latest US drug sales data, more idling from the chemical industry, and algae in Italy.

PHARMACEUTICALS

US pharma sales

Pharma industry analysts IMS have released their latest report on US prescription drug sales. The 2008 figures reveal that Pfizer was still the biggest player in this field – but no longer by very much:

top-5-pharma

The data also show that while Pfizer’s blockbuster statin Lipitor still earns more than any other drug in the US, its sales fell from $8.1 billion (£5.7 billion) in 2007 to $7.8 billion in 2008, as the number of prescriptions for drug fell from 65.1 million to 57.9 million. Over the same period, prescriptions for generic competitor simvastatin rose from 47.7 million to 66.7 million.

The second biggest earner was Nexium, AstraZeneca’s heartburn drug, which made $5.9 billion in the US, followed by Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Plavix, which made $4.9 billion.

Plavix fines

Bristol-Myers Squibb have agreed to pay $2.1 million to settle an enquiry by the US Federal Trade Commision about claims the company made to the FTC over its deal with Canadian generics manufacturer Apotex to delay the introduction of a generic competitor to its blockbuster blood-thinning drug Plavix. BMS had already settled with the New York attorney general’s office over the same matter in December, at a cost of $1.1 million. The federal settlement brings to an end a series of state and federal investigations into the company’s negotiations with Apotex, and spokeswoman Laura Hortas said that ‘the company is glad to put the matter behind it’.

Roche secures Genentech shares
Swiss pharma giant Roche has officially completed its $46.8 billion buy-out of Genentech. Roche has secured 96 per cent of the US biotech company’s shares, and aims to make Genentech a wholly-owned subsidiary once it has acquired the remaining 4% of shares at the agreed price of $95 per share.

Ranbaxy approval

Indian firm Ranbaxy Laboratories has received Good Manufacturing Practice certificates from the UK and Australian regulatory authorities for its factory at Paonta Sahib – the same facility being investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over claims that research results in several drug applications from the plant had been falsified. The FDA are continuing to investigate the falsifications, but says it has no evidence that drugs manufactured at Ranbaxy’s plants fail to meet quality standards.

CHEMICAL INDUSTRY

Evonik to cut costs as sales expected to fall

German chemical company Evonik is introducing a €500 million (£464 million) a year cost-cutting programme to ‘weatherproof’ the group from the economic downturn. While the firm saw sales rise 10 per cent to €15.8 billion in 2008, pre-tax profits fell 57 per cent to €502 million. While the firm is anticipating that ‘2009 will bring considerably lower sales’ and that it ‘does not expect the economy to pick up rapidly’, Dr Klaus Engel, Evonik’s chairman, insists that the firm is ‘well-positioned to master this unprecedented recession’.

The cuts are aimed at optimising the company’s infrastructure and the firm has not announced any job cuts, preferring instead to ask 3000 workers to work short weeks to avoid the need for redundancies. Additionally, the firm has said it will not cut its research and development plans, with Engel insisting that ‘research and development are important drivers of profitable future growth’.

Bayer boosts cash reserves

Bayer has increased its cash reserves and restructured its debts after raising €1.3 billion by issuing corporate bonds. The German firm says the bonds were over-subscribed by more than five times, suggesting the firm could have raised far more.

Meanwhile, Bayer is continuing to expand its operations in India by building a €20 million polyurethane raw materials manufacturing facility in Ankleshwar. The new polyisocyanate plant will start operations in 2011.

BASF cuts output further

BASF has announced it will idle for three months one of its two Ludwigshafen steam crackers, due to continued lack of demand.

However, the German firm has opened a new vehicle emissions catalyst centre in Krasnogorsk near Moscow, Russia. The centre has been opened following Russia’s decision to adopt EU emissions standards, which will be gradually phased in.

Rhodia restructure

French speciality chemicals company Rhodia has announced it will restructure its operations in France, cutting 132 current positions while creating 41 new ones. The restructure forms part of Rhodia’s existing company-wide plans to cut its costs by €150 million by 2011.

ENERGY

Venice looks to a greener future

Venice’s seaports are going green and building Italy’s first algal power plant in an effort to become self-sufficient for its energy needs. The plant, only the third of its kind planned in Europe, will be built in collaboration with Enalg and should be ready to produce 40 megawatts of electricity within two years.

While some may balk at the €200 million price tag, the plant will produce no emissions as all carbon dioxide produced by the plant will be fed into the bioreactors in which the algal fuel is grown.

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It’s good to know that when chemists make weird and wacky new molecules, they don’t just stick them on the shelf – they try and find out what they can do with them.

Cameron Jones and Andreas Stasch weren’t satisfied with simply ‘bagging’ the first ever Magnesium(I) compound – they’ve now shown that it can be useful as well.

 

magnesium12

(more…)

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Yesterday evening I visited a smaller poster session – and yet again found a refreshing hit of great work. I can’t help but get enthusiastic about something when an excited researcher is telling me face-to-face what they have been doing in the lab (or in the case below on the computer):

Computational chemists are reporting that concerns that terrorists may start making a more dangerous version of the touch-sensitive explosive that was employed by the thwarted British ‘shoe bomber’ are unfounded.

The peroxide-based explosive found in Richard Reid’s shoes (on American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami in December 2001) was TATP or triacetone triperoxide. This explosive is a trimer – consisting of three acetones and three peroxides – and in a 1999 paper some Chinese scientists reported that the tetramer could be made. Multiple internet rumours have since claimed that the tetramer (called tetracetone tetraperoxide or TeATeP ) could offer terrorists an even more deadly tool.

After hearing these rumours, Jeff Woodford from Eastern Oregon University, US, and his team set about using computational techniques to test whether the synthesis of the TeATeP was possible. Using density functional theory and studying the low energy conformers, they concluded that the structure is not stable enough to be made (at least in the way reported).

They then sent their grad students into the lab to follow the literature procedure in an attempt to make the tetramer. Using IR and NMR techniques, they found that what had been made was actually the trimer – not the tetramer. Jeff could  also confirm that the grad students all still had 10 fingers!

This is my last post from Salt Lake City, as my flight leaves in a couple of hours, so I thought I’d say goodbye US-style – ‘have a nice day’.

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I’ve just watched a great summary lecture (at the Spring ACS) on boosting the light absorption of solar cells by scratching their surface. This work presented by C P Wong from the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, (that has all been published over the last year incidentally) involves using chemical etching to help silicon solar cells absorb more light. An added bonus is that the scratched surface is also self-cleaning, allowing rain to wash away any dust and dirt that may accumulate of the cells blocking sunlight. They think that this technology can potentially increase the efficiency of the cells by up to two per cent – which is a lot in the field of silicon solar cells.

Another (much smaller) poster session for me this evening – I’ll let you know if I find anything juicy before I fly home tomorrow.

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All the big publishing houses are ‘displaying their wares’ and launching or promoting new products at the this year’s spring ACS meeting, I sifted through the barrage of information and have highlighted below the new stuff that I think will be of most interest to Chemistry World readers:

RSC
In line with the conference theme on nanoscience, the Royal Society of Chemistry in promoting the launch of a new journal called Nanoscale planned for autumn 2009. The journal will publish experimental and theoretical work across the breath of nanoscience and nanotechnology. And will have three editors-in-chief: Chunli Bai (National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology of China), Markus Niederberger (ETH Zurich) and Francesco Stellacci (MIT)

 ACS
The American Chemical Society are promoting the recent launch of Just Accepted manuscripts, a pilot programme designed to deliver journal content two to seven weeks faster than before. These versions will be published online as soon as the papers are accepted, prior to editing, formatting etc. And replaced by a ‘prettier’ version at a later date. So far this is only available however on the three journals including ACS Chemical Biology.

Nature
Nature were handing out copies of the first print issue of Nature Chemistry – although I initially failed to get my hands on one as they ran out at the stand within 24 hours (the editor Stuart Cantrill has just kindly handed me one from his secret stash). For any of you that have missed the aggressive marketing campaign, Nature Chemistry is a brand new monthly journal that plans to cover ‘all areas of chemistry.’

PNAS
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is having a drive to up the amount of chemistry content it publishes.

Elsevier
Elsevier were demonstrating their new have database called Reaxys – that combines the content of CrossFire Beilstein, CrossFire Gmelin and the Patent Chemistry Database. For more info see the March Chemistry World note book column.

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The latest expedition to the Southern Ocean to test the theory that fertilising the ocean combat climate change has concluded that the process sucks negligible amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The theory goes that sprinkling iron into areas of the ocean lacking in the metal will stimulate the growth of algae, which will absorb CO2 from the air as they grow and then carry some of this greenhouse gas to the depths of the ocean when they die.

The German-Indian Lohafex project is the latest expedition to test out the theory in practice. The team found that dumping six tonnes of iron into the ocean did indeed boost algal growth – but that within two weeks the algae were being eaten by a voracious band of tiny crustaceans called copepods, drastically cutting the amount of carbon captured.

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These results are just the latest to show that a process that at first glance appears relatively simple is actually far from it. Previous studies – including most recently an investigation into the effects of natural iron fertilisation, where the metal is washed from land into the ocean – have produced conflicting data as to how much extra carbon might be captured.

The Lohafex team suggest that the area of ocean they tested may have been deficient in silicic acid as well as iron, which prevented a bloom of silica-shelled diatoms from forming. Previous fertilisation experiments that did show carbon capture found that diatoms were the blooming species. ‘Since the silicic acid content in the northern half of the Southern Ocean is low, iron fertilisation in this vast region will not result in removal of significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere,’ the German researchers conclude.

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When I came out of lectures last night the snow had stopped, the clouds had lifted and finally you could see the mountains – they are so close to the city that I’ve been told you can go skiing at dawn and still be sat at your desk by 9am!  

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After my mountain gazing it was time for the poster mixer session. I was expecting it to be huge (I am at an ACS meeting after all), but it would be fair to say it exceeded expectations:

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After queuing to get my free popcorn and drink, it was time to get down to the serious business of sniffing out some great new science to share with you. My first challenge however was to decide what area of the hall to start in – it’s divided up into the different ACS technical divisions, labelled by acronym (rather than full name) and whilst some of these are obvious such as PHYS and FUEL, many are really not WCC and CINF for example (Women Chemists and Chemical Information apparently). I soon settled in and am pleased to report that I got the hit of new, unpublished work I’d been looking for all day yesterday.

My favourite, found in PMSE (Polymeric Materials: Science & Engineering!), was ‘Toward rehealable supramolecular polymers using aromatic amide motifs’ presented by Stuart Rowan’s group at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, US. The team are looking at polymer coatings that can be healed by heating. Under mechanical stress (pulling apart or twisting) the hydrogen bonds between the single polymer chains break, and the polymer cracks. When heated (with a heat gun for example) the interpolymer hydrogen bonds reform and the polymer is ‘healed’. Rowan’s group published an earlier version of this in JACS in 2006, but that polymer was plagued by oxidation problems. The current work is looking to overcome this by changing the aromatic groups at the end of the polymer chains.

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Today, I have braved the snow in an attempt to hunt down some more new (i.e. unpublished) chemistry being presented here in Salt Lake City to tell you about – and I’m sorry to say I’ve been unsuccessful so far! I have however found a heart warming story about a cancer drug for dogs that I though I’d share with you:

A US scientist has been telling the tale (or should that be tail) of a therapy based on vitamin B12 and nitric oxide that is being developed to treat cancerous tumours in dogs.
Joseph Bauer and colleagues from the Cleveland institute have used a biological Trojan horse technology to kill the cancer cells – meaning that the cells think that the compound is benign vitamin B12, and therefore lets it bind to its vitamin B12 receptors, and once bound the toxic nitric oxide in the compound is released, killing the cell.
They used their compound, nitrosylcobalamin, to treat the first cancer inflicted dog – Oscar, a Bichon Frise – five years ago, and Bauer was happy to confirm that Oscar is still alive and cancer free. Since then they have treated two others dogs – both successfully – and are currently carrying out trials on 10 others. Bauer says that the dogs treated so far have all seen a reduction in tumour size without any toxic side effects or discomfort. And that they are aiming to get their compound into full clinic trials ASAP.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Bauer has a pet dog – he is the proud owner of a two year old Beagle.

oscar-the-miracle-dog1

PS: My hunt for more new, unpublished chemistry (which is notoriously tough at ACS meetings) goes on this evening – in an evening symposium and a poster session. I’ll let you know how I get on tomorrow.

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Well, the winner of the ACS What is nano? nanotube contest (where people were invited to make a short creative video expressing how nano is best visualised) was finally announced last night at the Spring ACS meeting – and frequent blog readers will have realised that I would be rather excited about this! I however was busy partying RSC style yesterday evening and had to wait until this morning to find out the winner, and after boring my colleagues with my excitement over breakfast, I made my way to the ACS Nano stand first break of lectures this morning to get the results. And….the winner is one of my favourites (see my blog earlier this month) ‘the nanosong’ by nanomonster (see below). Very worthy winners of the $500 prize!

PS: For those of you who are unfamiliar with this contest see a brief overview I gave in a blog in January

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