July 2009



This week has seen the release of yet more financial results which indicate that, while the recession is still biting, things may be stabilising – at least for the time being.

PHARMACEUTICALS

Sanofi’s sales grow as it invests in animal health

Sanofi-Aventis has seen its sales for the quarter increase 11.2 per cent to €7.4 billion (£6.3 billion) helped by favourable exchange rates and recent acquisitions. The French drugmaker’s operating profits soared 26.8 per cent to €3.0 billion with its biggest selling drug, the diabetes drug Lantus, increasing a similar amount (26 per cent) to €792 million. Several recent studies had linked the drug to an increased incidence of cancer, but Sanofi’s chief executive Chris Viehbacher said the claims ‘were not at all justified’.

Meanwhile, Sanofi also announced it was buying Merck’s 50 per cent share of the animal health company Merial for $4 billion (£2.4 billion). This will give Sanofi-Aventis 100 per cent ownership of the company’s joint venture that started in 1997.

But this doesn’t mean the companies are planning to cease animal heath collaborations. At the same time, it was announced that Merck, Sanofi-Aventis and Schering-Plough have signed an agreement giving Sanofi-Aventis the option, after the planned Merck/Schering-Plough merger, to combine Merial with the Intervet/Schering-Plough animal health business to form a new animal heath venture, owned equally between the ‘new’ Merck and Sanofi-Aventis.

For more information on animal pharmaceuticals, RSC members can read this month’s feature article: Pill-popping pets.

Teva’s record-breaking quarter

Israeli generics giant Teva has posted ‘record-breaking finanical results’ for the quarter according to Shlomo Yanai, the company’s chief executive. The company’s sales grew 20 per cent to $3.4 billion (£2.0 billion), partially driven by record sales of its MS (multiple sclerosis) therapy Copaxone that saw sales grow 21 per cent to $981 million. Operating profits increased 44 per cent to $981 million compared to the same quarter last year.

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‘This was an exciting quarter in terms of strategic achievements, as the Barr integration continues to run ahead of schedule and we are realising more synergies more quickly than we had initially forecast,’ said Yanai. ‘I believe that a quarter like this one when we had only one key launch, but still delivered the best numbers in our history provides a very clear demonstration of Teva’s unique qualities and the strength of Teva’s growth momentum.’

Crestor sales boost AstraZeneca

Sales of AstraZeneca‘s anticholesterol drug Crestor jumped 33 per cent during the quarter to reach $1 billion and account for 14 per cent of the pharma giants sales. This surge in sales helped the company maintain its quarterly sales at $7.9 billion – the results were dampened by currency exchange rates masking underlying sales growth of 9 per cent. Operating profits increased 37 per cent of $3.6 billion.

Lundbeck and Solvay give up on schizophrenia drug

Danish pharma company Lundbeck and Belgium’s Solvay have announced that they have stopped development of their experimental schizophrenia drug – Bifeprunox. Bifeprunox, a partial dopamine and serotonin 5-HT1A agonist, has already tested on 2500 patients with schizophrenia worldwide. This move to abandon the drug came after the two companies evaluated data from Phase III clinical trials, where the drug was being tested as a maintenance treatment for the condition.

Schering-Plough moves towards FDA approval for schizophrenia drug

This week on the other side of the pond, a different treatment for schizophrenia has received better news. US-based Schering-Plough schizophrenia drug, SAPHRIS (asenapine), has obtained the backing of a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel. A positive outcome from this panel does not guarantee FDA approval, but it is being viewed as a positive leap forward by the company.

INDUSTRY

Bayer falls but Healthcare and CropScience grow

German chemicals giant Bayer has seen group sales fall 5.9 per cent to €8.5 billion as the recession hampered sales from its MaterialScience division, which fell 30 per cent to €1.8 billion compared to the same quarter last year. But it was not all doom and gloom at the company, as sales from its Healthcare division grew 8.3 per cent to reach €4 billion and CropScience sales grew 2.7 per cent to €1.8 billion.

Group operating profits were down 7.6 per cent to €1.1 billion.

AkzoNobel yet to see signs of growth

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Dutch chemical firm AkzoNobel has seen sales volumes in the second quarter slip 16 per cent compared to the same period last year. Revenues only fell 10 per cent to  €3.7 billion and operating profits fell 12 per cent to €370 million.

‘In March, we saw early indications that markets may be stabilizing and we have seen that trend continue into the second quarter. However, this gradual stabilization is at significantly lower levels than 2008. With the exception of some emerging markets, we see little significant recovery of growth,’ said Hans Wijers, the company’s chief executive.

Rhodia falls due to volume declines

Rhodia has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year sales decline for the quarter with net sales falling 19.6 per cent to €987 million and operating profits tumbling 67 per cent to €38 million.

‘The swift and efficient adjustment of our business management processes and the powerful alignment of all our teams allowed us to generate strong Free Cash Flow during the first half of 2009 despite the very challenging environment,’ said Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Rhodia’s chief executive. ‘In Q3, we should benefit from increased demand in emerging markets which is now back to 2008 levels and modest improvement in Europe and North America.’

DSM goes on a selling spree

This week Dutch chemicals company DSM moved towards their end-goal to focus solely on life and material sciences, with the disposal of two other parts of their business. DSM Energy – which participates in the exploration and production of oil and gas on the Dutch Continental Shelf – is to be sold to the Abu Dhabi national energy company TAQA for €285 million. And DSM’s urea licensing business, Stamicarbon, is being boought by Italian-based Maire Tecnimont for €38 million.

AGROCHEMICALS

Syngenta slumps due to currency effects

Syngenta saw sales slip 9 per cent to $6.6 billion during the quarter, the company’s net income also falling 9 per cent to $1.3 billion. While sales of crop protection chemicals only increased 1 per cent to $5 billion, seed sales were up 7 per cent to $1.7 billion.

‘In the first half of 2009 Syngenta achieved further underlying sales growth following an exceptional year in 2008. This performance, in the context of rigorous credit management in emerging markets and generally adverse weather conditions in the second quarter, attests to the strength of our portfolio and our leading market positions,’ said Mike Mack, Syngenta’s chief executive.

‘We continue to make significant investments in order to secure the long term growth of our business’

Matt Wilkinson and Nina Notman

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The future of algal biofuels is brighter (or greener?) than ever now that OriginOil has developed a way of using electrical impulses to ‘milk’ the algae and get at the oils produced inside them without killing them.

The news was released on the wave of excitement caused by ExxonMobil’s $600 million (£364 million) investment in Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics company.

(more…)

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Just to give you all a heads-up, I will be trekking up to Glasgow for the 2009 International union of pure and applied chemistry (IUPAC) congress next week (2-7 August).

I’m going to be in the thick of the academic sessions, on the lookout for new and exciting chemistry to cover in Chemistry World, and as usual there will be regular blog posts – so if you’re around and spot a bleary-eyed journalist heading for the coffee, feel free to flag me down!

(more…)

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The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) search for a safe location to store 17000 tons of mercury is being met with that all too familiar cry of ‘not in my backyard’.

In October last year, the US Mercury export ban act became law and the DOE were given until January 2010 to find a suitable location for the long-term storage of the country’s stockpile of this toxic element. So far, government officials at three of the seven US states the DOE was hoping would consider storage, have voiced objections according to the Associated Press.

Mercury is highly toxic, especially to the developing nervous system, and concentrates in food chains once released into the environment. And although mining it is now banned in the US, stockpiles remain high – as a result of reduced use by industry and a ban on selling it.

So I guess this is a case of ‘watch this space’ to see where all this mercury will get to call home.

Nina Notman

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In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, science writer Brian Clegg tells us about the difficult to pronounce radioactive element whose discovery was announced on a children’s radio quiz

 

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Its financial results season again, and both GSK and Roche have seen sales of their antiviral drugs boosted by the swine flu pandemic. But the real pay day is yet to come for GSK and other vaccine makers who are busy preparing vaccines.

PHARMACEUTICAL

Pharma results roundup

But not all pharma firms are being given a boost by the pandemic. Merck & Co. saw worldwide sales for the second quarter drop 3 per cent to $5.9 billion (£3.6 billion), although it said that if the effects of poor foreign exchange rates were ignored, its total revenues would have increased by 3 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2008.

The company saw its operating income fall 6 per cent to $1.9 billion largely due to increased research and development costs, which soared 19 per cent to $1.3 billion – a figure equal to 23 per cent of its revenues for the quarter. (4 per cent more than it spent in Q2 08). Sales of Merck’s asthma drug Singulair accounted for 22 per cent of total sales – an increase of 16 per cent to $1.3 billion.

Despite Schering-Plough, soon to merge with Merck, reporting that sales for the quarter had slipped 5.5 per cent to $4.6 billion, the company’s operating profits increased 53 per cent to $773 million – due to the effectiveness of the company’s cost cutting programme.

Schering-Plough’s chief executive, Fred Hassan, was quick to praise the success of the company’s R&D engine. ‘We can see that six years of focus and investment in our R&D pipeline have created enormous long-term value,’ says Hassan, who once again highlighted the company’s ‘five stars’ of its pipeline – two of which were gained through its €11billion (£9.5 billion) acquisition of Organon in 2007.

Pfizer recorded a 9 per cent drop in sales for the quarter, caused by nearly every big selling drug in its current portfolio seeing a fall in sales. However, its cost cutting programme compensated for the fall and led to a 9 per cent increase in operating profits – which rose to $3.04 billion. The pharma giant was boosted by the news that it had received approval from the European Commission for its pending acquisition of Wyeth.

Eli Lilly saw its sales for the quarter rise 3 per cent to $5.29 billion, although the company said the increase would have been larger had it not been negatively hit by unfavourable currency exchange rates that led to sales outside the US falling 8 per cent to $2.2 billion.

The officially reported data is not a true reflection of the company’s performance as it does not include revenues from ImClone, which it bought in November last year – if that data is included then revenues only grew 1 per cent. ‘Pro forma’ operating income (which includes the ImClone results) rose 20 per cent to $1.5 billion.

BMS beats the blues and buys Medarex

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) is to pay $2.4 billion to purchase biotechnology firm Medarex, representing a 90 per cent premium over the company’s closing share price the same day.

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‘Medarex’s technology platform, people and pipeline provide a strong complement to our company’s biologics strategy, specifically in immuno-oncology,’ said James Cornelius, chief executive of BMS.

The company recorded a 3 per cent increase in sales for the quarter, which rose to $5.3 billion. Quarterly sales of its blood thinner Plavix rose 11 per cent to $1.54 billion and sales of its anti depressant Abilify soared 22 per cent to $643 million. Operating profits operating profits increased 42 per cent to $1.7 billion, helped by a 13 per cent drop in the cost of sales.

INDUSTRY

Calcium carbide cartel fined

The European Commission has imposed fines totalling €61 million nine suppliers of calcium carbide and magnesium from across the continent for their involvement in a price-fixing cartel. Dutch chemical manufacturer AkzoNobel had its fine dropped for its role in revealing the cartel, but German firm Evonik Degussa were hit with a 50 per cent increase to their fine owing to previous cartel involvement.

LG Chem plans petrochemicals and glass expansion

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South Korea’s largest chemicals manufacturer, LG Chem, is expanding its petrochemicals capacity and branching out into glassmaking. LG Chem has entered a 50:50 joint venture with the China national offshore oil company (CNOOC) to build an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plant in Guangdong, southern China. The plant will make LG Chem’s ABS output the same as Taiwan’s Chi Mei Corp – currently the world’s largest producer by capacity.

Meanwhile, LG Chem is set to invest 1.2 trillion won (£587 million) developing three mass-production plants based on imported technology from German precision and specialist glass maker Schott. The company plans to manufacture glass for LCD panels for markets in Korea, China and Taiwan.

Refinery fire

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has begun an investigation into a fire at CITGO’s oil refinery at Corpus Christi, Texas. One employee was airlifted to hospital after the fire started in the refinery’s hydrogen fluoride alkylation unit.

Sabic’s profits plummet

Saudi basic industries corporation (Sabic) saw its operating profit decline 58 per cent to 6.2 billion riyals (£1 billion) this quarter, compared to 14.8 billion riyals in the same period last year. Revenues for the quarter were not reported. This contributed to a fall in net income of 76 per cent relative to the same period in 2008, but is an improvement over the 974 million net loss in the previous three months.

DuPont feels the pinch

Net revenues of $7.1 billion (down from $9.3 billion in the second quarter of 2008) left DuPont with operating profits of $472 million – a reduction of 66 per cent compared with the same period last year. The drop is down to falling sales almost across the board, but was partially offset by high prices and strong sales of corn and soybean seed leading to a 15 per cent rise in operating profits in the company’s agriculture and nutrition segment.

AGROCHEMICALS

Bayer teams up with Australia’s CSIRO

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Agrochemicals multinational Bayer CropScience (BCS) has further strengthened its long-term alliance with Australia’s Commonwealth scientific and industrial research organisation (CSIRO). The move is part of Bayer’s effort to expand its seeds and traits research to include cereal crops, particularly developing new wheat varieties, with investment of €750 million over the 5 years up to 2012.

BCS has cultivated its research collaboration with Australia’s national science agency since 1998, developing biotechnological tools applicable to a variety of crops including cotton. Initial projects in this new phase of the relationship will focus on developing new varieties that make more efficient use of phosphorus and are more resistant to drought and other environmental stresses.

Matt Wilkinson and Phillip Broadwith

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The curtain has now gone down on this year’s Oxford Synthesis meeting, but this morning’s presentations maintained the standard we had become used to over the previous two days.

Erick Carreira gave a stunning lecture, depite having flown in from Singapore for the final day of the meeting and having to reconstitute his slides from various back-ups after a catastrophic computer crash. He gave an eloquent account of his group’s synthesis and evaluation of amphotericin B and some intriguing work on chlorosulfolipids (which recently featured in CW’s Totally Synthetic column).

To cap off the session, Dirk Trauner followed on from Gerry Pattenden’s lecture last night with some really elegant biomimetic terpene synthesis exploiting pericyclic reactions, and Dieter Enders gave a comprehensive round-up of his group’s work on organocatalysis using proline-derived molecules and N-heterocyclic carbenes to promote a variety of different reaction cascades.

It’s been a great meeting and I’ve met a lot of interesting people, so it’s a shame to have to leave. However, after a week of cloudy days, the sun is finally shining so I think I might go for a wander around Oxford before the long journey home.

Phillip Broadwith

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I don’t know how the likes of Kirstie Allsopp or Sarah Beany will feel about this one, but British artist Roger Hiorns has really done a great job of the “refurbishment” of this council flat in Elephant & Castle (London, UK). Indeed, he has been so good with this rennovation project that it has won the author a nomination for the coveted Turner Prize.

This mad copper sulfate fest – 75,000 litres of solution were required – which looks like something out of 20,000 Leagues under the sea, has today reopened for visitors.

Roger Hiorns. Seizure 2008. A Jerwood/Artangel Commission Harper Road, London. Courtesy of Corvi-Mora, London.

Health and Safety announcement: Scientists out there…. If the chemistry doesn’t work, please don’t throw it over your walls.

Bibiana Campos-Seijo

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Last night we were treated to something very special – after the delicious conference banquet, we all trooped (some more directly than others as the wine took its toll) over to the lecture hall for the second evening lecture.

Gerry Pattenden took the stage and held the entire audience captivated with a mixture of wit, humour and inspirational chemistry – truly a master at work. He used the occasion to bring together some themes running through his group’s recent research into terpene- and steroid-based natural product synthesis, but also illustrated the power of considering possible biosynthetic routes to inspire chemical synthesis, and taking the time to look for connections and relationships between molecules which, at first glance, seem quite different.

Last night was the fifth time Pattenden has spoken in this series of meetings over its 40 year history, and his performance yesterday makes me wish I’d been around to see the other four!

Right, time for breakfast to set me up for the final day.

Phillip Broadwith

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Hi All, There’s a break in the programme today, so while everyone else has gone off to admire the sights of Oxford, I thought I’d keep you up to date with proceedings in the lecture-hall.

We had four lectures this morning, the first being from Dafydd Owen of Pfizer – it’s always nice to see strong industrial representation at conferences like this, renewing and forging new links between two communities which are so heavliy dependent on one another. (more…)

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