BASF pitches for GM potato approval in EU – UK tremors were probably caused by fracking – And Nice changes guidance on Pradaxa

AGRICHEMICAL – BASF, the largest chemical company by sales, has applied for EU approval to grow Fortuna, a genetically modified (GM) potato variety, and sell it as food. The company already has approval for Amflora, a GM potato variety used to produce industrial starch. In September 2010, BASF caused consternation in the environmental community when it revealed that Amflora fields had been contaminated with another GM variety, Amadea, which did not at that time have approval. The modification in Fortuna protects against late blight, a disease that affects potatoes and tomatoes. BASF has been testing Fortuna in field trials for six years. The variety will now be assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). BASF expects to launch Fortuna as a commercial product in 2014 or 2015.

PHARMACEUTICAL – India has revealed plans to increase the proportion of its drug market covered by state price control rules, according to news reports. Price control rules currently cover 34 drugs representing 20-30 per cent of the market. Under the proposals, the reach would be extended to cover at least 400 drugs representing 60 per cent of the market.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Swedish biotech Karo Bio is planning to cut 25 jobs in preparation for spinning off its pre clinical drug development activities. The company is based in Hundinge, Sweden, and currently employs 70 people, focusing on nuclear receptors as target proteins.

CHEMICAL – Recent minor earthquakes in the UK were probably caused by the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract shale gas, according to an independent report. UK company Cuadrilla began drilling for shale gas – natural gas locked up in shale deposits that cannot be extracted using conventional approaches – at Preese Hall 1, near Blackpool, in August 2010. But in April and May, earthquakes, measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale, occurred nearby. The report, commissioned by Cuadrilla following the unusual seismic activity, concludes: ‘It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall 1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events.’ But it adds: ‘This combination of geological factors was extremely rare and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites.’

PHARMACEUTICAL – The UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has changed its draft guidance on blood clot prevention drug Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate) to recommend the drug after receiving new data from Boehringer Ingelheim – which markets the drug – on its cost effectiveness. The agency asked for more data in its initial report published in August. Now the agency is recommending the drug for treating atrial fibrillation, which puts patients at higher risk of stroke and heart attack.

Andrew Turley

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