August 2009



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Carbon capture has been in the news again, this time with artificial trees set to line our motorways, reflective skyscrapers striped with algae to grace the skyline and roofs to be carpeted in leafy plants.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has issued a report looking at promising examples of geo-engineering. The first is artificial trees, which look a lot like giant fly-swats and would absorb carbon dioxide from the air. As previously reported in Chemistry World, the technology exploits ion exchange resins, similar to those used for water softening. The resin absorbs carbon dioxide, which is released when exposed to water vapour. However, since little is known beyond last year’s patent application, this technology is very much a sapling rather than a mature tree. (more…)

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This week has seen more discontent about the UK’s healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), after it rejected an appeal to make three drugs available to kidney cancer patients on the state National Health Service (NHS) – angering both drug makers and patients alike.

Only Pfizer’s Sutent will be reimbursed by the state, while the efficacy evidence to support the use of Roche’s Avastin, Bayer’s Nexavar and Wyeth’s Torisel was deemed ‘not strong enough’ to justify using NHS money to fund. Nice caused a furore last year when it said it would not fund all four of the drugs, before later relenting on the use of Pfizer’s Sutent after its price was dropped.

The decision to turn down the appeal, brought by three cancer patient groups, Wyeth and Roche, was dubbed ‘entirely illogical’ by Roche UK’s general manager, John Melville. The decision will be even more galling for those sufferers who do not respond to Sutent, as Avastin has recently been approved in the US for the same indications.

PHARMACEUTICALS

P&G offloads pharmaceuticals division

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Proctor & Gamble (P&G) has sold its pharmaceuticals business to US-based specialty drug maker Warner Chilcott for $3.1 billion (£1.9 billion) and will be financed by debt. The business had 2008 sales of $2.3 billion and will triple the size of Warner Chilcott, which reported sales of $938 million last year.

‘The acquisition transforms Warner Chilcott into a global pharmaceutical company, expands our presence in women’s health care, establishes us in the urology market in advance of the anticipated launch of our erectile dysfunction treatments, and adds gastroenterology therapies to our product portfolio,’ said Roger Boissonneault, chief executive of Warner Chilcott.

P&G’s decision to exit the pharmaceutical arena and concentrate on consumer health care follows moves by many ‘pure play’ pharmaceutical firms to diversify into the consumer health care market to protect themselves against the impending patent cliff and the uncertainties of new drug development.

Lupus drugs no longer ‘pie in the sky’

Lupus has so far proven to be one of the hardest diseases to treat, with many drug candidates having failed to provide a clinically meaningful treatment for the 5 million sufferers worldwide. But in the last few weeks results from two clinical trials have given lupus sufferers a ray of hope.

At the end of July, Human Genome Science (HGS) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) reported results from the first-ever successful Phase III trial of a lupus drug Benlysta (belimumab, formerly LymphoStat-B ). If the drug successfully negotiates the remaining regulatory hurdles it could have sales of over $4 billion a year from lupus patients seeking an effective drug to stop their immune system from attacking their own organs.

The news has fueled speculation that GSK is lining up a takeover bid for HGS, sending the smaller company’s stock price soaring to $22 per share – six times what it was a month ago.

But the good news for lupus patients doesn’t stop there, UCB and Immunomedics have announced positive results from a Phase IIb trial of their lupus therapy epratuzumab fueling hope that at treatment for the disease may finally be in sight.

INDUSTRY

Sinopec’s chemical profits soar

The China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) saw operating profits at its chemicals division soar 115 per cent to Yuan9.8 billion (£0.9 billion) for the first half of 2009, compared to the same period last year. Despite the recession, Sinopec managed to increase its sales volumes of chemical products while at the same time benefiting from the price of raw materials falling more than final product prices.

Despite group turnover falling 26.9 per cent to Yuan534.0 billion for the first half of the year, net profits were Yuan33.2 billion, up 298 per cent compared to the same period last year.

‘The government’s fiscal stimulus package has yielded positive results on the national economy, and we saw both demand and pricing of petroleum and petrochemical products starting to recover recently. As a result, our monthly operating performance began to pick up,’said the company’s chairman, Su Shulin.

BASF and Delta to halve the cost of refrigeration

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Chemicals giant BASF and electronics expert Delta Electronics are teaming up to develop refrigeration systems that will have half the energy consumption of current compressor-based cooling systems. According to Olaf Rogge, Magnetocalorics Project Leader at BASF Future Business, ‘Cooling equipment accounts for about one fifth of domestic energy consumption. The refrigerator is in effect the most important home appliance in terms of potential energy savings because every household has one – and because it is one of the most power hungry appliances.’

The technology is based on a principle first observed by German physicist Emil Warburg in 1880  – that ferromagnetic materials heat up when introduced into a magnetic field and cool down again when removed. The systems would remove the need refrigerant gases that are often harmful to the environment and should be compact enough to suit all household, commercial and industrial applications.

‘BASF has already started the scale-up for the production of special, economically feasible materials that already show a magnetocaloric effect at relatively low temperatures and thus offer a broad range of applications. This is a major contribution to the success of this project,’ said Rainer Diercks, president of Chemicals Research & Engineering at BASF.

Ineos turns to AFC to increase energy efficiency

Ineos ChlorVinyls is turning to AFC Energy to develop a hydrogen fuel cell system for its chlorine manufacturing plant in Runcorn, UK, that will turn the hydrogen released during the manufacturing process into energy that can be used to power the plant and reduce its reliance on fossil fuel-derived energy.

The move follows AFC’s announcement in June that it had successfully installed a fuel cell system at AkzoNobel’s chlor-alkali plant in Bitterfeld, Germany.

Surrey NanoSystems gets equity boost

UK-based Surrey Nanosystems has raised £2.5 million in venture capital funding to help it commercialise its low-temperature production process of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which it hopes will be used to grow CNT interconnects for semiconductor devices.

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‘The semiconductor industry urgently needs a new interconnection technology. If you can solve the problem of growing precision CNTs at silicon-friendly temperatures – and we have – it opens up a massive potential market,’ says Ben Jensen, chief technical officer of Surrey NanoSystems.

‘We expect to be the company that is able to offer a viable new interconnection process for high-volume semiconductor fabrication, one that really exploits the incredible performance properties of CNTs.’

Matt Wilkinson

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In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, Jonathan Steed from Durham University explains why ruthenium is an element for the connoisseur 

 

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Nasa scientists have successfully used Alice to launch a rocket into the sky. No, Alice isn’t a muscle-bound Nasa employee but ALICE – nanoparticles of aluminium plus ice. The environmentally friendly propellant fired a nine-foot rocket 1,300 feet into the skies near Purdue University, US, earlier this month.

Propellants currently used for space missions are relatively expensive, so there is a need for new versions which are cheap, environmentally-friendly and stable. Aluminium and water meet these conditions, since they are readily available and when combusted produce aluminium oxide and hydrogen via a strongly exothermic reaction. (more…)

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The Church of England has turned to an unlikely source to aid in the fight against crime, no not batman, but a nanoparticle-based paint!

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The paint has already helped Kent Police secure the conviction of three men who pleaded guilty to stealing lead from the roof of a church that had been marked with the paint. The paint is invisible to the naked eye, but fluoresces under ultra violet light – enabling Police to identify not only that the lead is stolen, but where it was stolen from.

The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group has supplied all Church of England churches with SmartWater nanoparticle paint after a record-breaking spate of thefts of lead from church roofs, described as the biggest asset stripping of churches since the Reformation. (more…)

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In this weeks business round-up we cover good news for Merck and its merger target Schering-Plough as well as the inauguration of Germany’s first pilot CO2 scrubber for coal- and gas-fired power plants.

PHARMACEUTICAL

Merck wins Singulair shoot out with Teva

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Merck & Co. has won its fight to stop Isreali generics giant Teva from selling generic versions of its asthma drug Singulair until its patent runs out in 2012. Despite concerns about a possible link to depression and suicide, Singulair has remained Merck’s biggest selling drug, bringing in more than $4.4 billion a year (18 per cent of the company’s revenues).

‘We invest heavily in the R&D that is needed to discover innovative medicines like Singulair, and we will vigorously defend our intellectual property rights,’ said Bruce Kuhlik, executive vice president and general counsel of Merck.

Asenapine ok for Schering-Plough

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised Schering-Plough‘s antipsychotic drug Saphris (asenapine) as a first-line treatment for both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – marking the first time a psychotropic drug has won approval for both conditions at the same time.

The news was expected, after an FDA advisory panel had recommended the drug be approved in July.

Schering-Plough acquired the drug when it bought Organon for $14 billion in March 2007 and will no doubt be thankful to Pfizer, who partly funded some of the clinical studies until it decided to pull out of a collaborative deal to develop the drug in November 2006.

Lonza outbids JLL for Patheon

Swiss contract pharmaceutical manufacturer Lonza has outbid private equity group JLL for its Canadian rival Patheon. Lonza’s bid of $3.55 (£2.14) per share values the company at $700 million and is considerably more than the $2 per share that majority shareholder JLL offered last December.

‘An acquisition of Patheon would take us into the complementary activities of finished dosage development and manufacturing for both small molecule and biological active ingredients. With Patheon, Lonza would be in a unique position to offer its customers manufacturing capability across the complete supply chain,’ said Stefan Borgas, Lonza’s chief executive.

Lilly drops osteoporosis drug

Eli Lilly has decided to drop its experimental osteoporosis drug arzoxifene after reviewing the preliminary results of its 5 year Phase III ‘Generations’ clinical trial. While the drug successfully reduced the risk of vertebral fracture and invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women, the company said that after reviewing the overall clinical profile of arzoxifene in light of currently available treatments, including Lilly’s own osteoporosis products, it had decided not to submit the compound for regulatory review.

‘At Lilly, our goal is to provide innovative therapies that result in better patient outcomes,’ said M Johnston Erwin, global brand development leader for musculoskeletal therapies at Eli Lilly. ‘While arzoxifene met its primary efficacy objectives in this study, we are disappointed that the Generations data did not convincingly demonstrate that arzoxifene would represent a meaningful advancement in the treatment of osteoporosis.’

INDUSTRY

Sasol considers closing phosphoric acid plant

South African chemicals company Sasol has initiated a series of consultations ahead of a possible closure of its phosphoric acid plant in Phalaborwa. According to the company, a combination of declining demand and price of phosphoric acid and increasing prices of the phosphate rock and sulfur feedstocks have ‘rendered the plant’s ongoing operation unsustainable.’

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The plant was designed to produce 325,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid a year, but 100,000 tonnes of that capacity has already been mothballed due to a slump in demand from the fertiliser industry.

‘We have, over many years, looked at a number of options to avoid a potential plant closure and we are deeply concerned by the potential impact on our staff and the local community,’ said Marius Brand, managing director of Sasol Nitro. ‘Unfortunately, the situation has become unsustainable and we need to consider responsible actions with our shareholders, our people and the community in mind.’

Germany’s first CO2 scrubber inaugurated

Germany’s first CO2 scrubbing plant has been officially put into operation after trials in July were shown to be successful. The plant was developed by BASF, Linde and RWE at a cost of €9 million (£7.8 million) – 40 per cent of which was funded by the German government.

The pilot plant is capable of capturing roughly 300 kilograms of CO2 per hour with a capture efficiency of 90 per cent. The plant is only capturing CO2 from a partial flow of flue gasses, but the companies intend to study the plant to enable even more efficient large scale plants to be retrofitted to modern coal- and gas- fired power plants.

DuPont’s sunny investment

Despite being in the midst of a company shake-up, DuPont has announced plans to invest more than $120 million to increase its capacity to make the Tedlar films used to make the backplates of photovoltaic solar cells.

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‘This investment supports the significant increase in the global market demand for clean, renewable energy,’ said Dave Miller, group vice president of DuPont Electronic & Communication Technologies. ‘Our capacity expansions are critical steps in growing the Tedlar business and maintaining our market leadership in back sheets for solar panels that deliver the long-term, reliable power supply that our customers have come to expect from their investment in renewable power generation.’

AGROCHEMICALS

Bayer CropScience buys US biotech Athenix

Bayer’s CropScience division has bought privately-owned US biotechnology company Athenix to boost its ability to add herbicide tolerance and insect resistance to corn and soybean.

‘As part of our long-term strategy for innovation and growth, we intend to strengthen the position of Bayer CropScience in the seeds and traits market. This acquisition underpins the expansion of our BioScience core crop platform and allows Bayer CropScience to create a strong research platform in North America, the most important seed technology market of the world,’ said Friedrich Berschauer, chief executive of Bayer CropScience.

Matt Wilkinson

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Scientists have found a way to erase or enhance fearful memories in rats by manipulating dopamine receptors in the brain.

When they gave the rats a chemical that blocks dopamine receptors 12 hours after being scared, the rats quickly forgot their fear. Conversely, when they were given a chemical which promotes the activity of the dopamine receptors, this created a long-lasting fear. (more…)

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060855_co

In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, Sarah Staniland from the University of Leeds tells us about the element behind blue glass

 

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It’s unfortunate for the organisers when speakers cancel their presentations, but as spectators we were quite lucky this morning when Prof Mark R. Prausnitz from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US, gave us an extended version of his talk due to an unexpected gap in the programme. The topic was ‘targeted delivery to the skin and the eye using microneedles’ and I must admit that his presentation – I’m talking both content and delivery here – has been one of the highlights of the show for me: engaging, detailed and very solid. (more…)

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The third day of ACS Fall 2009 is coming to an end. It has been very hectic and the fact that many sessions are spread out around the different hotels of the city makes navigation of the event quite difficult. It certainly stops people walking casually around and dropping in and out of sessions. Additionally, the fact that it is so hot outside does not help at all. In any case, today it is worth highlighting two different sessions: one on environmental chemistry and the other on biotechnology. (more…)

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