Chemical manufacturers slowly restart plants in Japan

Some chemical manufacturers in Japan have begun restarting plants that were temporarily shut down following the recent earthquake and tsunami. But progress is slow, and the ongoing power disruptions are causing problems.

Toray shut its plants in Chiba and Tsuchiura, although they did not suffer significant damage. The Chiba plant began operating at ‘minimal level’ on 15 March. The company said on 18 March that it was aiming to restart the Tsuchiura Plant on 22 March, but it hasn’t said anything further since. In addition, Toray shut 10 plants belonging to company subsidiaries within the affected region. Again, there was no severe damage, and some resumed production on 14 March.

DuPont said on 21 March that its research and manufacturing facility at Utsunomiya, which produces polymers for automotive applications, was damaged, and it is now suffering because of the rolling blackouts. Staffing will return to full levels by the end of the week. The company says it has made arrangements to meet customer demand until the Utsunomiya site is back to normal.

Operations at the Kashima plant belonging to Kuraray have been suspended.

Shin-Etsu said on 22 March that ‘there has been little change in our situation’ since 17 March. The company has halted all operations at its plants in Kashima and Shirakawa, which suffered damage to production facilities and equipment. It says it is unclear how long it will take to restart activities. Infrastructure at the Kashima industrial complex was heavily damaged. Meanwhile, Shin-Etsu has asked the power companies to increase their efforts to provide a stable supply because the rolling blackouts are hampering recovery.

Merck & Co and Sanofi-Aventis ditch animal health joint venture

Pharma giants Merck & Co and Sanofi-Aventis have agreed to drop their 2010 plans to create a joint venture from their existing business units in the area of animal health.

The two companies were to combine Intervet at Merck with Merial at Sanofi to create a company with sales of $5.5 billion (£3.4 billion). But they’ve changed their minds, citing ‘the increasing complexity of implementing the proposed transaction, both in terms of the nature and extent of the anticipated divestitures, and the length of time necessary for the worldwide regulatory review process’.

Merck gained Intervet through its 2009 acquisition of Schering Plough. Merial was formed in 1997 as a 50:50 joint venture between Merck and Sanofi, but Merial is now wholly owned by the latter after it acquired Merck’s interest in 2009 for $4 billion.

The pundits say that the animal health market is growing nicely and presents a relatively low risk environment.

Merck KGaA buys microbiology business

German drug maker Merck KGaA has agreed to buy the microbiology business of Biotest, which employs 290 people and made sales of €50 million (£44 millio) in 2010. The move will boost Merck’s presence in the market for industrial microbiology for detecting contaminants, which the company says has attractive growth potential. The Biotest dehydrated cell culture and testing products are primarily used in the pharmaceutical, food and beverage and personal-care industries. The companies have not disclosed financial details. 

Ipilimumab meets primary endpoints for BMS

Drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb says that drug candidate ipilimumab met the primary endpoints in its Phase III trial, Study 024. Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody designed to affect the immune system during the treatment of skin or lung cancer. It improved overall survival in previously untreated patients with skin cancer. The data will be submitted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

Andrew Turley

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