With the economic crisis slowly and shakily retreating, consumption is starting to increase again with Germany’s gross domestic product (GDP) growing by 2.2 per cent in the three months to the end of June – its fastest quarter-on-quarter growth in more than 20 years.

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And while that’s good news for many, increased consumption can only lead to more pollution – something the members of the upcoming Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs)  are sure to be unhappy about. However, on 26 August 2010 the convention will be celebrating the addition of nine chemicals to the annexes of the convention which should lead to the reduction or elimination of their use.

The chemicals in question are: alpha hexachlorocyclohexane; beta hexachlorocyclohexane; chlordecone; hexabromobiphenyl; hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether (commercial octabromodiphenyl ether); lindane; pentachlorobenzene; perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooactane sulfonyl fluoride; and tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether.

As part of the ceremony, a video link with the Sea Dragon, a monitoring boat anchored in Brazil, will be established so they can report on the extent of drifting plastic pollution and POP levels found in deepwater fish in the South Atlantic Ocean.

PHARMACEUTICALS

Ranbaxy chief steps down as US sales double

Atul-Sobti

Indian drug major Ranbaxy is on the lookout for a new chief executive after Atul Sobti decided to step down from the post following ‘differences of opinion’ with the company’s majority shareholder, Japanese drug giant Daiichi Sankyo.

The news somewhat overshadowed the company’s announcement that its second quarter sales had risen to $458 million (£293 million), an increase of 22 per cent compared to the second quarter of 2009, helped by a 100 per cent increase in sales to the US after the successful launch of its generic version of GlaxoSmithKline’s herpes drug Valtrex (valacyclovir).

However despite Ranbaxy’s earnings before interest taxation depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) increasing nine-fold to $90 million, the company’s net profits tumbled 52 per cent to $72 million.

Merck snaps up Alzheimer’s candidates

Merck & Co. has signed a research collaboration with Vancouver, Canada-based Alectos Therapeutics to identify new drugs that modulate O-linked N-acetylglucosaminidase (O-GlcNAcase) – an enzyme thought to be related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Under the terms of the agreement, Alectos is eligible to receive a total of $289 million if research, development and regulatory milestones are met. The move shows that the pharma giant has not been put off by its recent clinical failures against the disease, which has proved a frustratingly elusive target for the industry.

‘Effective medicines to treat the devastating consequences of Alzheimer’s disease are greatly needed, and we are committed to achieve that goal,’ said Darryle Schoepp, senior vice president of Neuroscience, at Merck Research Laboratories. ‘We are pleased that this collaboration represents a truly innovative and promising new therapeutic approach in the Alzheimer’s disease field.’

Lilly loses patent battle

Strattera

A US court has ruled that a key patent protecting Eli Lilly’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Strattera (atomexetine) is invalid, opening the door to generic competition 7 years earlier than expected.

The patent in question, Lilly’s ’590, or method of use, patent had been set to expire in May 2017. However, as a result of the decision made by the US District Court for the District of New Jersey the company anticipates near-term generic entry of the drug into the US market.

The drug earned Lilly $143 million in the second quarter of 2010 after sales of the drug had increased 6 per cent compared to the same period in 2009.

‘Assuming a launch of a generic version of Strattera in the US, the loss of revenue will undoubtedly add to the challenges we will face during upcoming patent expirations on other key products,’ said John Lechleiter, Lilly’s chief executive.

He continued by saying that while the setback would cut the company’s growth in the low- to mid- single digits rather that the mid-digits the company was ‘taking the actions necessary to meet these challenges, including lowering our cost structure by at least $1 billion by the end of 2011 and reducing our full-time workforce’.

INDUSTRY

Demand lifts Evonik to pre-crisis levels

evonik

Strong demand has helped German chemicals conglomerate Evonik to record a 31 per cent increase in second quarter sales which reached €4.0 billion (£3.3 billion). In combination with the increase in demand, increased selling prices helped the company’s operating profits increase 87 per cent to €594 million – taking the company past the operating results it reported in 2008 before the economic crisis.

The company said its chemicals business ‘registered substantial volume growth in Asia, while demand picked up perceptibly in Europe and slightly in North America’ with sales increasing 34 per cent to €6.2 billion during the first 6 months of 2010 compared to the first half of 2009.

‘Following a strong start to the year, there has been a further clear improvement in our operating business,’ said Klaus Engel, Evonik’s chief executive. ‘[We have seen] an impressive hike in earnings in the wake of the crisis. We are on course for growth,’

Sasol referred

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he South African Competition Commission is taking Sasol to the country’s Competition Tribunal after it completed an investigation into complaints of collusion and excessive pricing in the polymers market. The commission has said that it has already reached a settlement with Safripol, other party accused of price fixing. Safripol has admitted ‘that the supply agreement between Sasol and Safripol and its implementation amounted to price fixing’.

Sasol has rejected the claims and says that South African propylene and polypropylene prices are comparable to international prices and that there is ‘no legitimate basis for the Competition Commission’s excessive pricing allegations’. Moreover, Sasol says the agreement between two companies was ‘structured at the behest’ of the former Competition Board in 1994 to ensure Safripol’s ongoing access to propylene.

The commission has said that it is looking to impose and administrative penalty of 10 per cent of Sasol’s annual turnover for each of the alleged contraventions, however Sasol has said that it will defend the matter before the tribunal if an amicable resolution not be achieved.

There’s an aura about Borealis

Austrian plastics producer Borealis has seen its second quarter sales increase 40 per cent to €1.6 billion thanks to increased selling prices. In combination with decreased feedstock prices, the company’s operating profits increased nearly five-fold to €126 million – up from €27 million during the second quarter of 2009.

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While the company said its sales volumes increased in most markets compared to the first 3 months of the year, demand for polyolefins in Europe remained at last years levels and that ‘the world economy remains volatile’.

Borealis has said it plans to invest €145 million in its melamine and plant nutrient production plants in Linz, Austria.

The company has also said its plans to continue its investment to increase production capacity at the Borouge complex in Abu Dhabi, a joint venture the company formed with the Abu Dhabi National Oil company. During the quarter it awarded contracts worth $3.7 billion to expand the plants capacity to 4.5 million tonnes per year by the end of 2013.

Borealis’s net profits for the quarter, which include income from its 40 per cent share in Borouge, nearly tripled to reach €92 million.

‘Our start-ups in Europe and the Middle East are progressing well which gives us confidence for the future,’ said Mark Garrett, Borealis’s chief executive.

‘Thanks to our liquidity and the commitment of our owners we are able to continue to invest in our future, in Europe and in the Middle East. At the same time, we will continue to focus on operational excellence and safety which stays our top priority at all times.’

Matt Wilkinson

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