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This week has seen researchers describe how they have solved one the mysteries surrounding how the anti-leprosy drug thalidomide causes devastating birth defects. As reported in Chemistry World, the drug binds to cereblon, a protein that is particularly important in limb development. Hopefully, the research can help identify any future drug candidates that could cause similar problems before they reach the market.
AZ generics position emerges
AstraZeneca (AZ) is to marry its brand name with a range of generic drugs from India’s Torrent Pharmaceuticals to increase its sales in emerging markets. Off patent drugs tend to sell better in emerging markets if they are associated with a trusted brand name – and many large pharma firms have been positioning themselves to exploit this fact.
AZ has been a late-comer to the emerging markets alliances bandwagon and currently only brings in 13 per cent of its sales from emerging markets. The tie-up with Torrent, which will see AZ purchase the licenses and marketing authorisations for 18 products in nine countries, should enable it to grow that percentage closer to its aim of 25 per cent.
As part of the deal, Torrent will manufacture the medicines working to AZ’s quality and process standards.
‘In markets where consumers and physicians have a strong preference for trusted brands, we believe AZ’s long-standing reputation for quality is a sustainable competitive advantage,’ said Tony Zook, head of AZ’s global commercial organisation. ‘Working in partnership with Torrent will extend the range of branded medicines we can offer to patients in emerging markets, where we see continuing opportunities for our business to grow.’
Roche and Biogen halt RA drug
Roche and Biogen Idec have suspended the development of ocrelizumab, their follow up to the companies’ part human/part mouse rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment MabThera/rituxan (rituximab). The trials were stopped after a review of the late stage clinical trial data ‘detected an infection related safety signal which included serious and opportunistic infections, some of which were fatal’.
The board reviewing the data from four RA trials and two lupus trials found that the safety risks associated with taking ocrelizumab ‘outweigh the benefits observed in these specific patient profiles at this time.’ However, the drug is still being evaluated for relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) in an ongoing Phase II study.
Abbott beats Biogen in race for Facet
And the bad news keeps on coming for Biogen Idec as Abbott has trumped its hostile bid to acquire Facet Biotech with a $27 per share cash bid for the firm. The deal, which values Facet at around $450 million, is expected to close in the second quarter of 2010 after both Facet and Abbott’s board signed a definitive merger agreement.
As well as a number of early and mid-stage oncology compounds, the deal will give Abbott access to daclizumab – a Phase II investigational drug for MS being developed in collaboration with Biogen Idec that is expected to move into Phase III development in the second quarter of 2010.
Sanofi and Merck to merge animal health assets
Sanofi-aventis and Merck & Co., have said that Sanofi has exercised its option to combine its Merial animal health unit with Merck’s Intervet/Schering-Plough unit. The new joint venture will be equally owned by the two parties after Sanofi pays a $250 million ‘true-up’ payment as Merial has been valued at $8 billion and Intervet/Schering Plough at $8.5 billion.
‘The upcoming combination of Merial and Intervet/Schering-Plough is an exciting opportunity for Sanofi-aventis to create with Merck a leading company in the animal health strategic and growing sector,’ said Christopher Viehbacher, chief executive of Sanofi. ‘I am convinced that, together, we will create strong value in bringing broader and improved offerings in both pet and production animal segments.’
Covidien gains approval for Polish medical isotopes
US healthcare company Covidien has gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada to use the Maria Research Reactor in Poland to produce Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which decays to form Tc-99m – the world’s most commonly used medical imaging isotope. The production process involves bombarding highly-enriched uranium-235 targets with high energy neutrons.
As highlighted in this recent Chemistry World article, there has been an increasing shortage of medical isotopes and Covidien believes the approval could enable around 1 million patients access to the crucial radio-imaging agents within six months.
Once produced the Mo-99 is commonly converted to MoO42- and absorbed onto an acid alumina column. When this decays it forms TcO4-, which because of its single charge is less tightly bound to the alumina and can be eluted from the column by a saline solution.
LyondellBasell looks to raise funds as bankruptcy exit nears
LyondellBasell has said it plans to raise over $6 billion to help it pay off existing debts and exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy.The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009 after the global downturn left it unable to pay off the billions of dollars of debt that Bassell took on when it bought Lyondell Chemical for $20.1 billion.
Since then the company has filed several restructuring plans to the US bankruptcy courts and has rejected a series of bids from India’s Reliance Industries for the company – the most recent of which valued the petrochemical giant at $14.5 billion.
The company plans to raise the funds by selling $3.25 billion of company bonds, essentially ‘I owe you’s’ that pay a fixed rate of interest, and a further $2.8 billion in a rights offering.
Dow continues to divest
Dow Chemical has continued to divest assets to help it pay off the loans it took out to buy Rohm & Haas in March 2009. The latest divestment is of its styrenics division, Styron, which it is selling to Bain Capital for $1.63 billion.
‘This transaction is yet another step in our disciplined approach to portfolio management, and is consistent with both the timeline and value we previously communicated for these assets,’ said Andrew Liveris, chief executive of Dow. ‘We are committed to further focusing our portfolio by shedding non-strategic assets that can no longer compete for growth resources inside the company, and in the process generating funds for further debt reduction and liberating resources for Dow’s higher growth, higher margin portfolio of technology, market driven businesses.’
The Styron unit is expected to have revenues of around $3.5 billion in 2010 and employs some 1900 people.
Pond scum looks good to Unilever
Unilever has extended its collaboration with biotech start-up Solazyme to make oils for use in soaps and other personal care products from algae.
‘Algal oil provides important benefits in personal care applications,’ explained Jonathan Wolfson, chief executive of Solazyme. ‘Solazyme’s algal oils can help meet the growing demand for completely renewable, natural and sustainable personal care products. Unilever is an acknowledged world leader in sustainability and we are honored to be working with them to develop this new renewable source of natural oils for their world class consumer products.’
Perhaps they’ll be studying their algal strains using techniques similar to those described by our news editor Anna Lewcock in her write up of some fascinating work carried at the National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US.
Bayer buys in extra muscle
Bayer Material Science has bought Artificial Muscle for an undisclosed amount to gain access to its electroactive polymers that are used in the consumer electronics industry.
The polymers can be used to make touchscreen panels that enable ‘awareness through touch’ by creating authentic tactile feedback, just like a conventional keyboard. According to the company, the technology could be used to make smartphones, gaming controllers and touchpads.
CF winning battle for Terra
The long-standing turf war to gain control of fertiliser manufacturer Terra Industries has swung in favour of CF once again after Terra’s board accepted a $4.68 bllion bid as it was ‘superior’ to the $4.1 billion bid recently accepted from Yara.
Yara stands to recieve a $123 million break up fee from Terra, unless it decides to up its bid – a move that analysts believe is unlikely.
‘A combined CF Industries and Terra creates a strong leader in the global fertilizer industry with superior assets that will generate long‐term value for stockholders, provide more benefits to customers and offer increased opportunities to employees,’ said Stephen Wilson, chief executive of CF.
Agilent agrees to sell Varian assets to Bruker
In a bid to appease regulatory authorities, Agilent has agreed to sell of some of Varian’s assets to Bruker once its acquisition of the company receives clearance from the US Federal Trade Commission and closes.
The product lines that will be sold to Bruker include Varian’s ICP-MS instrument busines located in Melbourne, Australia, its GC business located in Middelburg, the Netherlands and its GC-triple quadrupole MS business located in Walnut Creek, California.
‘The agreement to sell these businesses to Bruker is an important milestone toward completing our acquisition of Varian. While we would have liked to have been able to keep all of these businesses, we are pleased that they will be operated under the strength of Bruker’s leadership,’ said Bill Sullivan, Agilent’s chief executive.