November 2009



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One week until the conflab in Copenhagen, and China and the US have finally put some numbers on the table, but fresh reports of friction from developing nations could put a dampener on the news.

They might not be quite the numbers some were hoping for, but it’s a start. Last week President Obama pledged that the US will cut its emissions ‘in the range of’ 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 (that’s about 3 per cent below 1990 levels) and 83 per cent by 2050. (more…)

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This week has seen the Chinese authorities execute two people convicted of being involved in the sale of infant milk powder adulterated with melamine last year. The contaminated milk has been linked with the death of six infants and more than 300,000 cases of illness. The melamine was added to the milk to boost its apparent protein content.

According to the Shijiazhuang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhang Yujun was executed for the crime of endangering public safety by dangerous means, and Geng Jinping was put to death after being convicted of producing and selling toxic food.

The melamine scandal led the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recommend that pharmaceutical products from China should be tested for melamine. (more…)

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I attended the Converging Technologies for 21st Century Security conference in London yesterday, and was treated to a number of interesting talks on using science and technology for security applications – including improved armoury, explosive detection and forensics.

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Mark Welland, the chief scientific advisor for the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), was (as you would expect) keen in get across the key role of R&D for keeping our military safe and also securing the country against terrorist threats. He showed us an interesting graph demonstrating that countries that invest heavily in military R&D have significant technological advantages over countries that don’t. The UK sits happily at the top of the graph with only the US spending more – and therefore more technologically advanced than us. Welland didn’t mention, however, the cuts in R&D spending within the MOD in recent years, and how these would affect our technological advantage. (more…)

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…for chemistry! For the next two years, children’s favourite Sesame Street will be bringing science to the street in an effort to teach young kids about science and maths. (more…)

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If the politicians didn’t already have enough reasons to take the Copenhagen climate summit seriously, then Marshall Burke, from the University of California at Berkeley, has possibly given them one more.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Burke and colleagues suggest that armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa can be linked to variations in temperature – with substantial increases in conflict during warmer years. (more…)

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Good news this week as the US has stood up and said it might just manage to put forward an emission reduction target in time for the Copenhagen climate conference after all.

The announcement, apparently made by an unnamed White House official, came following promising reports that over 60 presidents and prime ministers will now be attending the conference in person, boosting hopes that an agreement will be made. (more…)

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In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, the head of the team officially credited by Iupac with discovering element 112 – Sigurd Hofmann at the Institute for heavy ion research in Darmstadt, Germany – talks about being the first to find this element, the accreditation process and the controversy behind the search for the perfect name and symbol.

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This week has seen the European Union gain a new president of the council and foreign policy representative. Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy will take up the newly-created role of president, while the UK’s Baroness Cathy Ashton takes over as the foreign policy representative.

One of the names that had been bandied about as a possible for the role of president was Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for competition, who has criticised the pharmaceutical industry’s ‘delaying tactics’ aimed at postponing the entry of generic drugs onto the market.

PHARMACEUTICAL

Merck targets Pfizer’s biggest failure

Merck & Co. is continuing to develop its CETP (cholesterol ester transfer protein) inhibitor ancetrapib and has just released results from a Phase IIb study that show the drug not only reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol, but that the beneficial effects continued for up to eight weeks after patients stopped taking the drug.

In 2006, Pfizer’s CETP inhibitor, torcetrapib, became one of the most costly and high-profile drug failures in the history of the pharmaceutical industry, after the company halted its development due to trial data that suggested it increased the risk of death.

And while Merck agrees that ‘the effect of CETP inhibition on cardiovascular risk has yet to be established’, if the long held hypothesis that decreasing LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol helps prevent heart attacks, ancetrapib could bring in revenues of around $10 billion (£6 billion) a year.

Nabi lands $540 million nicotine vaccine deal from GSK

Nabi has granted GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) an exclusive worldwide license for its smoking cessation vaccine candidate NicVax in a deal that could be worth over $540 million. Nabi will receive a $40 million upfront payment as well as milestone and royalty payments that could be worth more than $500 million.

The vaccine is designed to stimulate an immune response against nicotine (see right) so that antibodies bind to any nicotine in the blood stream and prevent them crossing the blood-brain barrier rendering them unable to reach receptors in the brain.

‘If approved, this smoking cessation vaccine technology could be a novel solution to help the millions of smokers who want to stop smoking and remain abstinent; a habit that is well documented to be very hard to stop permanently,’ said Jean Stephenne, president of GSK Biologicals.

The vaccine has recently entered Phase III clinical trials.

B-MS splits off nutrition division to become a ‘pure-play’ biopharma

Even as many of its peers in the pharma industry are diversifying into the generics, healthcare and medical devices arenas, Bristol-Myers Squibb (B-MS) is divesting non-core assets in a bid to become a biopharma thoroughbred.

In its latest divestment, B-MS is splitting off its stake in the Mead Johnson Nutrition company in a deal valued at $7.69 billion.

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‘This marks the latest step in our company’s transformation into a biopharma leader,’ said James Cornelius, chief executive of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

‘By executing our healthcare divestment strategy, we have sharpened our biopharma focus, improved the overall financial strength of the company and supported our ability to pursue strategic business development opportunities. All of these actions help us fulfill our mission to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines to help patients prevail over serious diseases.’

FDA accepts NicOx’s naproxcinod for filing

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted NicOx‘s clinical trial data on naproxcinod (recently covered in a  Chemistry World exclusive) for filing and said it will complete its review of the data in July, 2010.

INDUSTRY

Mitsubishi Rayon to be bought back

Japanese synthetic fibre maker Mitsubishi Rayon is to be bought by Mitshubishi Chemical Holdings (MCH) in a deal worth ¥220 billion (£1.49 billion) that will further consolidate the Japanese chemical industry.

As part of the agreement, Mitsubishi Rayon will function as an operating business of MCH, alongside its three existing subsidiaries – one of which, Mitsubishi Chemical, it split from in 1950.

A green and slimey future for Linde

German technology company Linde Group is collaborating with Algenol Biofuels to develop carbon dioxide and oxygen management systems for Algenol’s algae photobioreactor systems. The venture will aim to develop cost-efficient technologies to capture, store, transport and supply CO2 to Algenol’s reactors as well as removing excess O2.

‘Producing fuels or chemicals from algae is a promising way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,’ said Aldo Belloni, member of the Linde’s management board. ‘A cost-efficient supply of CO2 is a key factor in this biofuel chain. As a pioneer and leading company in CO2 capture, transport and supply we are delighted to be a key player in major projects in the algae-to-biofuel area.’

Total acquitted of 2001 blast

A French court has acquitted Grande Paroisse, a subsidiary of French oil giant Total, and Serge Biechlin, the former chief of its AZF chemical fertiliser plant of responsibility for a 2001 explosion at the plant on the ‘benefit of doubt’. Following the explosion that tore apart the plant with the force of a 3.4 magnitude earthquake, 31 people died and more than 2000 people were injured.

No-one has been convicted for the explosion more than eight years after it occurred. The prosecution has said it will appeal the decision.

Evonik ‘on course, despite rough seas’

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Evonik Industries’ chemical division has seen demand in Asia and Europe recover, but continued ‘sluggish’ demand in the US led to sales volume still falling short of last year’s level. Yet despite Its chemical sales falling 16 per cent year-on-year  to €2.59 billion (£2.3 billion), its earnings before income, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 16 per cent to €505 million.

‘Our efforts to lower costs and raise efficiency are having an effect. We are on course despite rough seas,’ said Klaus Engel, chairman of Evonik Industries.

Matt Wilkinson

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I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by – Douglas Adams

In one month it will all be over. The conference to crack climate change, the summit to save the world, the last chance saloon for planetary well being.

Except we, er, probably won’t actually manage all that.

(more…)

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Have you ever been stuck in desperate need of some metal nanoparticles, armed with only a bottle of wine, some photographic development chemicals and a microwave oven? Well, according to recent research, that might be all you need!

It turns out that wine has all the required elements for nanoparticle synthesis – a reasonable solvent (about 10-15 per cent ethanol in water); a reducing agent to supply electrons and turn metal salts into atoms of the elemental metal; and a capping or stabilising agent to prevent the metal particles aggregating together. In the case of wine, the sugars and polyphenolic anthocyanins present can provide both of these functions.

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Given that the polyphenolic compounds in the wine play an important role in controlling the nanoparticle synthesis, it won’t surprise many readers of this blog to learn that red wine makes better nanoparticles than white wine. Simply dissolve your favourite metal salt in the wine, bang it in the microwave for a minute or so, and hey presto – nanoparticles to fulfil your every domestic need.

Admittedly, the microwave that Babita Baruwati and Rajender Varma from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s National risk management research laboratory in Cincinnati, US, used was a focused microwave reactor, rather than a household appliance, and I can’t honestly recommend that you put metals in your microwaves at home, but it does show that you don’t need to do a lot of fancy stuff to make these particles. (Ed. honestly, really DON’T try this at home!)

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The team are aiming to develop environmentally friendly nanoparticle synthesis methods. Rather than wasting thousands of litres of good red wine, on an industrial scale their plan is to use grape pomace to provide the polyphenols to reduce and stabilise nanoparticles during synthesis. Pomace is the solid remains of pressed grapes and is a waste product from the wine industry.  It contains much higher levels of polyphenols than wine, making it an ideal source for nanoparticle synthesis.

They made nanoparticles from a variety of metal salts, including silver nitrate (AgNO3), chloroauric acid (HAuCl4), chloroplatinous acid (HPtCl4) and sodium tetrachloropalladate (Na2PdCl4), using both wine and pomace extract, showing that this could be a potential way to synthesise such particles in an environmentally friendly way and recycle a common waste product at the same time.

Phillip Broadwith

Reference: B Baruwati and R Varma, ChemSusChem, 2009, 1041-44
(DOI: 10.1002/cssc.200900220)

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