With all the attention on the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the cost of environmental disasters has risen to new highs of awareness. So after the conviction of eight former Union Carbide employees of ‘causing death by criminal negligence’ in the 1968 Bhopal gas disaster it is perhaps no surprise that the victims have been offered a new compensation package from the Indian government.


The latest $280 million (£187 million) payout will double the compensation received by families of the dead and others suffering health problems. But the move has been criticised by campaign group Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) for not going far enough as ‘only’ 45,000 people will receive payouts – and not the second and third generation individuals who BGIA believes are still being harmed by persistent pollutants in the region.

The Indian government has said it will resume its efforts to extradite Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide chief executive, from the US despite its previous attempts having been rebuffed.


Merck follows World Cup to South Africa


US pharma giant Merck & Co. has boosted its presence in South Africa by signing up local healthcare company Adcock Ingram to co-promote and distribute a number of its already established products. The pharma giant expects that sales into emerging markets will account for more than 25 per cent of its global pharmaceutical and vaccine revenue in 2013.

Merck’s over-the-counter products and a number of prescription medicines already licensed in the South Africa will be covered by the deal.

‘The collaboration announced today is part of Merck’s long-term strategy of expanding our geographic presence which will position us for leadership in emerging markets,’ said Stefan Oschmann, president of emerging markets for Merck & Co. ‘We expect sales from these markets to be a key contributor to our future performance and growth.’

Sanofi fishing for deals

Sanofi-Aventis has joined the clamour to get into the microRNA therapeutics field by signing up Regulus Therapeutics in a discovery, development and commercialisation deal that could be worth up to $750 million to the US biotech company.

The two companies will pool their resources to develop four microRNA drug development programmes including Regulus’s lead fibrosis programme that targets microRNA-21.

‘This new partnership continues to illustrate Sanofi-Aventis’ commitment to develop innovative therapies,’ said Marc Cluzel, executive vice-president of R&D for Sanofi-Aventis. ‘MicroRNAs are believed to be extremely important in human development and physiology. Together with Regulus we will develop therapeutics which could potentially open a new paradigm in the treatment of major diseases and could offer an attractive new therapeutic approach for patients.’

Meanwhile, the French pharma giant has signed a deal with diabetes experts Metabolex for its Type II diabetes drug MBX-2982 which could be worth up to $375 million. The orally available agent a G-protein coupled receptor agonist that targets GPCR119 has been found to affect glucose metabolism by modulating both insulin and GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) release.

‘The new mechanism of action of MBX-2982 is very promising and we are excited to have identified Metabolex as our partner in this very competitive field,’ says Pierre Chancel, senior vice-president of Sanofi-Aventis’s global diabetes division. ‘With the growing epidemic of Type II diabetes, more effective and well tolerated oral treatment options continue to be a cornerstone of innovative treatment schemes. In this sense, this agreement is another important step for Sanofi-Aventis towards our ambition to provide integrated solutions for diabetic patients.’

Trialling times for Pfizer

Pfizer has been asked by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suspend all osteoarthritis trials of tanezumab after a small number of patients in the trials reported worsening of the condition leading to joint replacement.

The drug, a monocolonal antibody against nerve factor growth is being developed as a treatment for pain. Its development for conditions such as cancer pain, interstitial cystitis, chronic low back pain and painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy is currently under review although patients with osteoarthritis in the any of these trials will need to stop being dosed while the FDA analyses the trial results.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest drug company has decided to withdraw its New Drug Application (NDA) for Mylotarg (gemtuzumab ozogamicin) after post-approval studies showed it did not demonstrate improved survival in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

The drug had been granted accelerated approval but its approval was dependant on post-approval study data, which turned out to be disappointing. Because of the results, the company will discontinue the drugs commercial availability as of 15 October, 2010.

‘We are disappointed that the study did not confirm the clinical benefit of Mylotarg. Our primary concern is for patients who suffer from AML, which remains a very serious and difficult-to-treat disease with limited treatment options. We advise patients to contact their physicians for further information,’ said Mace Rothenberg, senior vice president of clinical development and medical affairs for Pfizer’s oncology business unit.


Total’s biofuel push

French oil and chemicals giant Total has bought a 17 per cent stake in industrial synthetic biology company Amyris in order to develop new products and pathways to renewable fuels and chemicals.

The move echoes ExxonMobil’s decision to sign up Craig Venter’s biotechnology company Synthetic Genomics to produce next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae.

In contrast to using algae, Amyris is developing genetically engineered yeast that serve as living factories and convert plant material into biofuels and biochemicals.


‘Biotechnology offers new perspectives on the conversion of biomass into molecules for biofuels and green chemistry,’ said Philippe Boisseau, president of Total Gas & Power.

‘Amyris is one of the most promising start-ups in the emerging white biotechnology field. Its technology platform is a powerful accelerator for the development of industrial production routes for several of our markets. This partnership is a milestone for Total, as we aim to become an important player in this domain.’

P&G and M&G also tap Amyris

Meanwhile, both the UK’s Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and Italy’s Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G) have signed deals to develop products using Amyris’ biobased raw material farnesene, which it produces from Brazilian sugarcane.

The company says farnesene can be used in a variety of applications including as an emollient, in flavours and fragrances, surfactants, isoprene, industrial and automotive oils and lubricants.

P&G will look to incorporate using faresene in certain speciality chemical applications, while M&G will aim to use it in its polyethylene terephthalate (PET) process so it can add a renewable ingredient into its PET bottles and plastics.

Matt Wilkinson

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