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PHARMACEUTICAL

Aflunov positive opinion

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Novartis has won a positive European decision for its ‘pre-pandemic’ avian flu vaccine, Aflunov. The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommended that the European Commission (EC) grant the vaccine marketing approval.

‘The onset of a pandemic can be very rapid, leaving little or no time to prepare,’ said Andrin Oswald, head of the Novartis vaccines and diagnostics division. ‘Vaccinating in advance may prevent the potential devastation of a pandemic outbreak.’

Novartis expects an EC marketing decision from the EC before the end of the year.

CHEMICAL

Evonik to divest carbon blacks business

German chemical company Evonik is looking to offload its carbon blacks business, the second largest in the world, according to the company. Carbon blacks are primarily used to strengthen rubber tyres, although they also go into laser-printer toners. The business employs 1,700 people and makes annual sales of about €1 billion (£860 million).

‘The decision to divest this business provides the best basis for sustained investment in carbon blacks, new growth prospects and for securing future-oriented jobs in the long-term,’ says Evonik chairman Klaus Engel.

The move is part of a wider plan to focus on speciality chemicals. The company says it wants to concentrate on areas with above-average growth potential in the wake of the economic downturn. Sales fell 18 per cent to €13 billion in 2009. But a €500-million-a-year cost-cutting programme to ‘weatherproof’ the company meant operating profits fell only 8 per cent to €1.2 billion.

The biggest operator in this field is probably US company Cabot, which achieved 2009 sales of carbon blacks of $1.3 billion (£820 million) – 59 per cent of its total sales.

Akzo ambition

Dutch chemical major AkzoNobel says it wants to increase sales to €20 billion. In 2009, they fell 10 per cent compared with the previous year to €13.9 billion.

‘Having successfully transformed our portfolio and completed the phase of integration and restructuring, we are now entering a new chapter of accelerated and sustainable growth,’ said chief executive Hans Wijers.

In addition, the company aims to increase earnings each year and maintain or increase the dividend payment.

‘High growth markets’ currently account for 40 per cent of sales. But the company wants to increase this to 50 per cent over the next decade, specifically by doubling sales in China from $1.5 billion to $3 billion, increasing sales in India from €0.25 billion to €1 billion and increasing sales in Brazil from €0.75 billion to €1.5 billion.

The company also plans to ‘increase big research and development (R&D) spend to more than 60 per cent of total R&D spend’.

Last month, AkzoNobel agreed to buy Chinese paint company Changzhou Prime Automotive Paint, which develops, manufactures, markets and distributes automotive coatings.

BASF finds root of contamination

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German chemical giant BASF says that its GM potato-contamination was caused at the seed stage by growing batches of the two types too close together. Meanwhile, the European Coexistence Bureau has published a report on how best to avoid co-mingling of genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic corn seeds. One of its top recommendations? Keep seeds of different types isolated from each other…

Earlier this month, BASF revealed that it had found Amadea potatoes in Swedish fields of its Amflora variety. Both types are GM varieties designed to produce only one sort of starch, making them more useful to, for example, the paper industry. But the EC has yet to grant BASF authorisation to grow Amadea.

‘We traced back the cause and can narrow the comingling down to a part of our harvest in Sweden,’ said Peter Eckes, president of the BASF plant-science unit. ‘The mix-up occurred because Amadea and Amflora plants were in close proximity to each other at our facilities. We regret this very much. To prevent such mistakes in the future, we will ensure complete separation of the production systems for Amadea and Amflora.’

ECHA proposes mercury restrictions

The Europe Chemical Agency (ECHA) has submitted a report to the EC that recommends banning mercury in a variety of measuring devices, including thermometers, barometers and sphygmomanometers, which measure blood pressure.

The proposed ban would affect devices for professional use, whether in industry or elsewhere. Mercury is already banned in those for public use.

Meanwhile, a Norwegian report has proposed restrictions on five phenylmercury substances, which are primarily used as catalysts in the production of polyurethane coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastiomers. According to the report, mercury is released into the environment during the lifecycles of the substances.

The committees established to review these proposals will give their decisions in September 2011. The EC will then decide whether to integrate them with the existing Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals rules.

Andrew Turley

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