May 2009



In this week’s business round-up we cover the US’ latest preparations for the swine flu pandemic; AstraZeneca’s ever-growing list of litigation; and Mitsubishi and DSM playing a €90 million game of swapsies.

PHARMACEUTICAL

US plans for swine flu pandemic

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcing that nearly 13,000 people around the world have been infected with swine flu [Influenza A (H1N1)], the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has sprung into action and decided to spend around $1 billion (£0.6 billion) to study and produce potential vaccine ingredients. According to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the HHS, ‘preparation and planning are critical to keep Americans safe in the face of a potential pandemic. Our goal throughout this new H1N1 outbreak has been to stay one step ahead of the virus.’

The funds have been used to place new orders on existing contracts with companies that hold US licenses for flu vaccines. The orders will help minimise the risk that the firms run of producing a bulk supply of antigen and adjuvant for a vaccine that may never be used. Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline have won large contracts to supply antigen and adjuvant ($290 million and $180 million respectively) while Sanofi-Pasteur has won a $190 million antigen-only contract.

Once the firms have received the seed virus they will start production and the first vaccine shots may be ready within months.

Celleron buys cancer drug from AZ

In an unusual role reversal, Oxford University UK spin-out Celleron has secured the rights to a cancer drug (AZD9468) from pharma giant AstraZeneca. The companies have dubbed the deal a ‘personalised medicine collaboration’ as Celleron will be using its CancerNav biomarker platform to identify those tumours that the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor will be most effective against so it can conduct a focused clinical development and commercialisation programme.

Under the terms of the deal, full development and commercialisation rights to the drug, which will be renamed CXD101, pass to Celleron, with AstraZeneca to receive ‘significant milestones and royalties’.

‘We have strong respect for Celleron and Oxford University’s unique skills in this specific field. AstraZeneca will benefit from the potential success of this drug in several ways and through partnership can do so without the need to commit internal R&D resources,’ said John Goddard, senior vice president of Strategic Planning and Business Development at AstraZeneca.

BMS wins full approval for Sprycel

dasatinib

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted full approval to Bristol-Myers Squibb‘s (BMS) Sprycel (dasatinib) therapy for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients who are resistant or intolerant to other therapies, including Novartis’ Gleevec. The tyrosine kinase inhibitor was originally approved in 2006 under the accelerated approval regulations for new drugs for serious or life-threatening diseases.

AstraZeneca wins key Seroquel case

A Delaware, US, judge has thrown out a lawsuit against AstraZeneca that claimed the antipsychotic medicine causes diabetes. In a one-paragraph ruling, Superior Court Judge Joseph Slights III granted the company’s request to exclude the testimony from a medical expert for the plaintiff – a move that disqualified the entire case.

seroquel

‘In the absence of competent expert testimony regarding specific causation, the court has also determined that it must grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in this case,’ wrote Slights, who said he would issue a written opinion later.

The case had been scheduled for trial in June and was to be the first to reach court of nearly 10,000 cases that allege the pharma giant either hid or minimised evidence that Seroquel use might lead to diabetes. The news will come as welcome relief to AZ after various internal communications had been made public which discussed how off-label usage could be increased.

Meanwhile, AZ is being sued by US specialty pharma firm Verus for $1.3 billion after the company decided to terminate a deal to take on the former’s paediatric asthma development programmes, citing toxicity issues.

Amgen buys into Cytokinetics heart drugs

US biopharma firm Amgen is to pay $50 million to license Cytokinetic’s cardiac contractility programme. The deal includes the novel cardiac myosin activator CK-1827452, which is being developed for the treatment of heart failure. Under the terms of their 2006 collaboration and options agreement, Amgen has assumed responsibility for the development and commercialisation of CK-1827452 and related compounds.

‘Recently completed clinical trials of CK-1827452 suggest that this drug candidate may represent a major step forward in the treatment of heart failure,’ said Robert Blum, Cytokinetics’ chief executive. ‘We are looking forward to now expanding our collaboration with Amgen to provide for the advancement of this novel cardiac muscle activator into studies that are designed to further assess the clinical benefit of this exciting compound.’

CSL’s Talecris buy could be stopped

red-blood-cells

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is to file a complaint in the US Federal District court to challenge Australian blood-plasma product maker CSL’s proposed purchase of US-based Talecris Biotherapeutics, as it believes the deal could lead to ‘an increase in the likelihood of coordination in the market’.

The merged company would displace Baxter at the top of the $15 billion global market for therapies derived from blood-plasma, but Brian McNamee believes the ‘sector is intensely competitive with manufacturers rapidly expanding’.

‘CSL strongly disagrees with the Commission’s position that consolidation over the last 19 years has limited supply and driven prices higher. We believe the reverse is true and in fact consumers have benefited by increased output, innovation and lower prices than would otherwise have been the case,’ said McNamee.

J&J file for arbritration over Merck S-P tie up

Johnson & Johnson has filed an arbitration demand requesting that the planned merger between Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough (S-P) constitutes a change of control at S-P that would permit the termination of the co-marketing agreements between the two companies for its inflammatory/immune disease drug Remicade (infliximab), which had 2008 sales of $3.8 billion.

However, Merck says is confident that ‘an arbitrator will agree that the Merck/Schering-Plough merger does not give Johnson & Johnson the right to terminate this agreement’.

INDUSTRY

DSM and Mitsubishi play swapsies

Dutch chemical company DSM and Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical Company (MCC) are to swap strategic business divisions. In return for its Xantar polycarbonate business, DSM will gain Mitsubishi’s Novamid polyamide business – both of which have annual sales of around €90 million (£78.9 million).

‘This agreement builds on the strength of both companies. It is my belief that our polycarbonate business will have a bright future under the new ownership of MCC and I am very happy to welcome MCC’s polyamide business to the DSM family,’ said Roelof Westerbeek, president of DSM Engineering Plastics.

MCC has been actively restructuring its petrochemicals business due to the economic downturn and the swap is designed to let both companies focus on increasing the global reach of the businesses they consider to be their core strengths.

stanyl_fortii

Meanwhile, DSM, is to quadruple the production capacity for its Stanyl ForTii polymer by the end of 2009. The halogen-free, flame-retardant high-temperature polymer supports lead-free soldering and was the first new polymer introduced in the new millennium.

‘Positive results of the ongoing market development of Stanyl ForTii as well as recent advances in research and development have enabled a faster ramp-up of production capacity than previously envisaged. Despite the current difficult economic conditions, market acceptance of Stanyl ForTii has not slowed,’ said Gart Kostermans, project director of StanylForTii for DSM Engineering Plastics.

Lanxess continues to increase R&D investment

German speciality chemicals maker Lanxess is once again planning to increase its R&D spend. The company says its research budget will be increased by 10 per cent this year, despite the economic climate dampening sales expectations. Last year, the company spent €97 million on research and development – accounting for around 1.5 per cent of its sales.

The company has targeted Asia for much of this increased expenditure and has officially opened an expanded High Performance Rubber R&D Centre in Qingdao, China – a move the company believes underlines its strategy of profitable growth in Asian through targeted investments in research and development.

‘To be ahead of the competition, especially in BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries, we need to deliver tailor-made and innovative products to our Chinese customers. This new research center will give us a competitive edge by developing new products and applications for the growing Chinese rubber market,’ said Werner Breuers, a member of Lanxess’ board.

Hemlock brings new polysilicon capacity online

Hemlock Semiconductor, which includes two Dow Corning joint ventures, has started operating a new 8,500 tonne polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon) production facility at its Hemlock, Michigan, US site. The new capacity represents the completion of the first phase of its $1 billion expansion plans that were announced a year ago.

‘The new capacity from our latest expansion is a critical milestone to ensure our customers’ confidence that they will have the silicon feedstock needed for the semiconductor and fast-growing solar energy industries,’ said Rick Doornbos, Hemlock’s chief executive.

‘Despite the economic recession, the long-term outlook for the solar market remains strong. Our demonstrated capabilities to deliver recent capacity expansions on or ahead of schedule and our more than 40 years of technical and manufacturing experience puts Hemlock Semiconductor in a strong position to help our customers succeed in an industry that continues to show promise and growth.’

Air Liquide consolidates photovoltaic position

Air Liquide says it has signed several new contracts which consolidate its position as the leading supplier of carrier and specialty gases to the photovoltaic industry. The company has said it will invest €13 million to meet the needs of these new customers around the world.

‘We are pleased to be the chosen supplier of the three largest solar cells production campuses in the world. These new signatures with PV market leaders confirm the success of our solar global offer, reinforcing our number one position in a fast-changing industry. The photovoltaic activity is at the crossroads of Energy and the Environment, two growth drivers of the Air Liquide Group.’ said Francisco Martins, vice-president of the World Business Line Electronics group of Air Liquide.

Matt Wilkinson

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glow-in-the-dark-monkeys

Japanese researchers have created marmosets that glow green under ultraviolet light by adding the gene that codes for green fluorescent protein (GFP). This latest research, published in the journal Nature, represents a key milestone in animal genetic engineering – but is also proving to be a new focus for animal-rights activists and anti-genetic engineering pressure groups.

The small monkeys have attracted considerable interest from the biomedical community as models for human diseases due to their size and unique biological characteristics.

(more…)

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060855_rn

In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast UCL’s Katherine Holt tells us about the radioactive gas that can be found lurking in some houses in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Cornwall

 

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It seems the Andean civilisations really were the ancient kings of heavy metal. Not only were they adept at mining and working gold, but they also used vermillion – a pigment based on cinnabar (mercury sulfide) – to decorate ceremonial objects and the bodies of their dead elite.

huancavelica-with-statue-400

An international team of researchers has looked at mercury deposits in lakes around Huancavelica in the Peruvian Andes, home of the largest deposits of mercuric ore in the New World. Unlike studies in the Northern hemisphere, where there is no real evidence of pre-industrial mining of mercury, the team found that Andean cinnabar mining – and the associated mercury pollution – dated back nearly 3000 years to 1400BC. (more…)

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Over the last fortnight the UK press has been saturated with the furore over MP’s expense claims. But it seems that the MP for Weaver Valley in Cheshire, the Right Honourable Mike Hall, has been using his expenses to good effect and single-handedly trying to keep the chemical industry in business by spending in the region of £250 per month on cleaning products. These included ‘cleaning cloths / sponges; kitchen towels; toilet tissue; floor/kitchen/oven/window cleaning fluids; bathroom cleaners/ disinfectant/bleach; Limelite solution; laundry products; stain removers; air fresheners; polish; binbags; and vermin and pest sprays.’

With a list like that – surely he must be the most squeaky-clean MP in the country?

INDUSTRY

Dow divests dutch refinery

Dow Chemical is continuing its divestment plan at breakneck speed in a bid to raise enough money to pay back loans it took out to purchase Rohm & Haas in April. The US chemical giant has now sold its stake in the Total Raffinaderij Nederland N.V. (TRN), a joint venture it shared with Total S.A., to Valero Energy Corporation in a deal estimated to be worth $725 million (£457 million). The company has also sold its calcium chloride business to an unnamed ‘strategic buyer’ for around $210 million.

The moves follow Dow’s sale of Rohm &Haas’ Morton Salts subsidiary, and the company has now sold off assets worth $2.6 billion. The firm has also raised $7 billion through debt and equity offerings to help pay off its debt.

Sunny prospects for photovoltaics growth

A market research report published by Linx-AEI Consulting has predicted that demand for the advanced materials used in photovoltaic solar cells will recover strongly after declining to $2.3 billion during 2009. According to the report, end user demand will grow from 5.7GW to 36GW by 2015 – causing the market to grow to $15 billion.

Sales of photovoltaics / $ million

pvchart-web

(C) Lix-AEI Consulting

Clariant defoams
Swiss speciality chemical company Clariant has bought XL Performance Chemicals for an undisclosed amount to bolster its presence in the foam control market.

foam-400

‘We see great business opportunity here in a global market that exceeds $2 billion and is growing annually at a rate of 4 to 5 percent,’ says Hugh Fowler, head of Clariant’s North American Functional Chemicals group.

‘At some point in virtually every manufacturing process – our own included – foam is created. Eliminating this foam or bubbles from such products as paints or cements is essential for these products to perform optimally as designed.’

BASF to boost amine production

German chemical giant BASF is to boost its amine production capacity by building a new methylamine plant at is Verbund site in Geismar, Louisiana, US. The plant will supply raw materials for some 20 different speciality amines already produced at the site.

‘This plant will strengthen our leading position as a global supplier of standard and specialty amines. With this backward integration, we are reinforcing the integrated Verbund in Geismar and paving the way to continued growth for our business with methylamine derivatives,’ says Beate Ehle, president of BASF’s Intermediates division.

‘This is extremely important for us since our customers use these derivatives as key starting materials to manufacture water treatment, gas treatment and cleaning agents, detergents as well as pharmaceuticals and crop protectants – products that provide answers to global needs and future megatrends.’

Oxford Catalysts goes drilling for ‘gold’

Oxford Catalysts has signed a memorandum of understanding with Potter Drilling to explore the application of its instant steam technology to hydrothermal spallation drilling of geothermal wells – a process that uses superheated fluid to drill into rocks and make geothermal wells that can be used to generate electricity.

geothermal

Geothermal wells are notoriously difficult to drill using conventional techniques as the wells are often sunk deep into hard rocks that are difficult to penetrate and quickly wear down rotary drill bits. Potter Drilling’s method overcomes these problems using superheated fluid to drill into the rocks, but creating the hot fluid can be cumbersome.

Oxford Catalysts instant steam technique produces steam at temperatures up to 800C using a catalyst to react methanol with hydrogen peroxide.

Because it is capable of generating superheated steam deep underground, Tom Wideman, chief technology officer at Potter Drilling believes ‘Oxford Catalyst’s Instant Steam technology is ideally suited to produce the heat for Potter Drilling’s hydrothermal spallation drilling technology.’

Rhodia gets first Kyoto carbon credits

French chemical company Rhodia has received the first emission reduction units (ERU) generated in Europe for a project located in its Salindres, France, site that will enable an average annual reduction of about 200,000 tons of CO2 between 2009 and 2012.

‘Rhodia keeps developing innovative solutions to tackle climate change efficiently. Thanks to the Salindres project, the group confirms to be ahead in terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction project development,’ says Philippe Rosier, president of Rhodia Energy Services.

PHARMACEUTICAL

J&J buys Cougar

Johnson and Johnson (J&J) has agreed to buy Cougar Biotechnology for just under $1 billion in a deal that will give it access to Cougar’s investigational prostate cancer drug abiraterone. The first-in-class drug is currently being studied in two Phase II trials, one in patients with metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer who have progressed after docetaxel-based chemotherapy has failed and the other in men who have yet to receive chemotherapy.

cougar

J&J has made an offer of $43 per share for the company – a 16 per cent premium on Cougar’s closing price on Thursday.

‘The acquisition of Cougar Biotechnology with its talented team will strengthen our growing capabilities toward a leadership position in the global oncology market,’ says William Hait, head of R& D at J&J’s Ortho Biotech Oncology unit. ‘We are developing new treatments that we anticipate will change the course of cancer treatment by targeting the tumor and its microenvironment and thereby will provide a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of patients worldwide.’

Merck expands medical assistance programme

Merck & Co. has said it is increasing the income threshold for patients to qualify to receive Merck medicines for free.

‘During these difficult economic times, Merck remains committed to helping people get the medicines they need,’ said Kenneth Frazier, president of Global Human Health at Merck & Co. ‘For more than 50 years, the Merck Patient Assistance Program has helped millions of patients by providing Merck medicines free of charge. Our recent enhancement to the program will enable us to help even more people.’

The move follows Pfizer’s announcement last week that it was setting up a similar scheme, which has been claimed to have been worth at least $100 million in free advertising for the company.

EU and US to give pharma a boost

The European Commission has announced the first 15 projects to be awarded funding from its Innovative Medicine Initiative (IMI). Between them, the projects will receive €246 million (£216 million) and will help improve the training of researchers and clinicians involved in drug development in areas such as diabetes, pain, asthma and psychiatric disorders.

The projects will be partly funded to the tune of €136 million by pharmaceutical companies belonging to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and will aim to tackle the main bottlenecks in the drug discovery process.

‘Our objective is for Europe to become a champion’s league for biopharmaceutical research. In times of crisis, such a model of cooperation is proving well suited to answering both EU competitiveness objectives and public health needs,’ said Janez Potocnik, the EU Commissioner for Science and Research.

Meanwhile, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has said it is launching the first integrated drug development pipeline to produce new treatments for rare and neglected diseases. The $24 million programme will focus on finding cures for the 6800 rare diseases that affect over 25 million Americans.

‘The NIH is eager to begin the work to find solutions for millions of our fellow citizens faced with rare or neglected illnesses,’ said NIH Acting Director Raynard Kington. ‘The federal government may be the only institution that can take the financial risks needed to jumpstart the development of treatments for these diseases, and NIH clearly has the scientific capability to do the work.’

Cancer charity to bridge funding gap

British charity, Cancer Research UK, has decided to fund clinical drugs on GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) aurora kinase inhibitor 1070916A because of limited corporate funding. In return, the charity will receive a share of the profits if the drug is successfully launched.

‘Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have always had to prioritise which agents they take into clinical development, but even more so in the current economic climate,’ says Keith Blundy, chief executive of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Research Technology (CRT) unit. ‘This deal with GSK demonstrates how Cancer Research UK and CRT can work with industry to speed up the development of anti-cancer drugs that might otherwise remain on companies’ shelves.’

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cow-300

Inconsistent tenderness is one of the largest factors that influence the quality of beef. It plays a huge role in what distinguishes Tesco Value beef from Tesco Finest beef, I’m told by my meat-loving husband frequently……I’m a vegetarian you see and he likes to justify the extra expense!

To get more tender meat, the Japanese farmers of Kobe beef feed their cows beer and massage them daily. So some people are going to extreme lengths to get tender beef, but as no one fully understands the science behind the tenderisation process yet it can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. (more…)

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coke-bottle

Well, when I say green, I mean in the environmental sense – not in the ‘lets have a green coloured glass of Coca-Cola’ sense!

Basically, The Coca-Cola Company is to start a pilot launch of a new, fully recyclable poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) plastic bottle that is from a blend of petrochemical and up to 30 per cent plant-derived materials.

‘The ‘PlantBottle’ is a significant development in sustainable packaging innovation,” says Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chief executive. ‘It builds on our legacy of environmental ingenuity and sets the course for us to realize our vision to eventually introduce bottles made with materials that are 100 percent recyclable and renewable.’
(more…)

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science1

In science, researchers jump through hoops to provide evidence for their hypotheses, to ‘prove’ as far as possible that x really is x. Even then it’s not fixed in stone – but it takes solid data to shift a widely accepted theory.

Presenting a scientist with a ‘what if…’ or an extrapolation beyond the evidence in front of them tends to make them clam up or caveat their answer to the point where there are enough conditional clauses to give even the most dedicated grammar hound a headache.

But what about at the edges of science, where evidence-based claims begin to thin and the ‘facts’ become a little fuzzier? (more…)

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green-teasmall

The health benefits of green tea, from alertness-boosting antioxidants to aiding slimming and defying aging, are persistently splashed across the TV and the web. Now, according to a seminal study from German researchers, those wonderful polyphenols could also reduce your chances of contracting HIV.

 

Unfortunately, to do this the molecule needs to interact with proteins in semen, so simply swapping your daily cuppa for a brew of Xi Hu Longjing isn’t going to cut it – the remedy requires a more, let’s say, direct application. (more…)

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060855_zn

In this week Chemistry in its element podcast science writer Brian Clegg tells us about the essential element that makes us more attractive to the opposite sex

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