Explosion in China kills 14 – Gilead to buy Pharmasset for $11bn – And Merck to pay $950m in Vioxx case

CHEMICAL – German chemical giant BASF says that over the next five years it will invest over €100 million (£86 million) in battery research, development and production. As part of this push, it will create a new business unit dedicated to battery materials on 1 January 2012. The unit will work on lithium-ion battery technology, including solutions for anodes and separators, as well as lithium-sulfur and lithium air technology.

CHEMICAL – An explosion at a melamine plant in China has killed 14 people and injured five, according to state reports. Workers were maintaining and repairing a condenser at a plant owned by Shandong Liaherd Chemical Industry in Xintai, Shandong Province, when at 2pm on 19 November the explosion occurred. An investigation is under way.

PHARMACEUTICAL – US pharma company Gilead Sciences has launched a $11 billion (£7 billion) friendly takeover of Pharmasset. There is a lot of synergy here – both companies specialise in drugs for treating HIV and hepatitis. But overall the move pushes Gilead strongly into the hepatitis C virus (HCV) area, in which Gilead is hoping to find success with oral drugs. Pharmasset is currently testing three drug candidates for the treatment of chronic HCV infection in the clinic. The lead candidate, PSI-7977, is in Phase III trials.

PHARMACEUTICAL – German drug maker Merck KGaA wants some answers from social networking firm Facebook, according to news reports. It says that a page it had control of (www.facebook.com/merck), a powerful marketing tool, has mysteriously come under the control of a completely separate company and competitor, US drug maker Merck & Co. How did two global companies operating in the same market end up sharing the same name? Merck & Co, known as MSD outside the US, grew from the US assets of the original Merck, a German company, which were confiscated during World War I. Merck KGaA is known as EMD outside Germany.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Meanwhile, Merck & Co has agreed to pay $950 million to settle claims that it illegally promoted Vioxx (rofecoxib). The US approved the drug, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, for the treatment of several conditions in 1999 but it approve it for treating rheumatoid arthritis until 2002. Several groups allege that the company promoted the drug in relation to rheumatoid arthritis before 2002. The drug was removed from the US market in 2004 following the emergence of evidence that it raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Canadian pharma company Valeant agreed to buy I-Nova, a private drug distribution company based in Australia, in a deal worth up to A$700 million (£440 million). Valeant will pay A$625 million up front and up to A$75 million depending on how well the acquired company performs in the coming years. I-Nova is expecting to have made A$200 million in sales by the end of 2011. Valeant says the move will establish a ‘beachhead’ for Southeast Asia and South Africa.

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