Andrew Turley


David Glowacki is on a mission to ‘bring spectroscopy into the public consciousness’, he says. But Danceroom Spectroscopy, his enchanting fusion of quantum molecular dynamics, music and dance, is in no way pedagogical. If it has any kind of take home message, it is simply that movement should be fundamental to our collective understanding of atoms and molecules, the buildings blocks of matter. (more…)

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A member of RSC staff (and Chemistry World fan) recently suggested to me that it’s been 100 years since the idea of solar fuels was born. His evidence? A paper by Italian chemist Giacomo Luigi Ciamician published in Science on 27 September 1912. In it, Ciamician proposes how we might harness the enormous power of the Sun to produce fuels from plants:

‘Is it possible or, rather, is it conceivable that…the cultivation of plants may be so regulated as to make them produce abundantly such substances as can become sources of energy…? I believe that this is possible.’

Although he doesn’t use the term, Ciamician is clearly talking about biofuels:

‘…it seems quite possible that the production of organic matter may be largely increased… The harvest, dried by the sun, ought to be converted, in the most economical way, entirely into gaseous fuel…

And from there he goes on to describe artificial photosynthesis:

‘For our purposes the fundamental problem from the technical point of view is how to fix the solar energy through suitable photochemical reactions. To do this it would be sufficient to be able to imitate the assimilating processes of plants.’

The paper covers the use of sunlight to power the production of all kinds of useful compounds, not just fuels. But it’s this idea of capturing energy from the sun – deliberately and directly – to store in chemical form for later use that is arguably its most compelling. The idea falls within a generalised concept of solar power (or solar energy) but can be demarcated from making electricity directly from sunlight, as photovoltaic solar cells do.

And it’s a hot topic today. Earlier this year, the RSC published a report into solar fuels and artificial photosynthesis describing the rapid rate of progress in this area in recent years.

Indeed, the whole paper seems very prescient. Ciamician highlights a widespread and growing dependence on fossil fuels and questions how industry would cope with a sudden and unexpected price spike.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he makes a few false steps in his comments about biofuels:

‘There is no danger at all of using for industrial purposes land which should be devoted to raising foodstuffs. An approximate calculation shows that on the Earth there is plenty of land for both purposes, especially when the various cultivations are properly intensified and rationally adapted to the conditions of the soil and the climate.’

But to be fair there were fewer than two billion people on the planet back in 1912. Who could have predicted the impact of a four fold increase over the next 100 years?

In predicting how our rampant thirst for energy would lead us to the Sun, Ciamician seems to be peering into the future with remarkable clarity.

Andrew Turley

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Scrap patents for HIV–aids drugs? – Stem cell drug approved – And expect chemical ‘mega acquisition’ in 2012

PHARMACEUTICAL – Here is a bold suggestion. A US senator says that the US should scrap the patent system for HIV–aids drugs, thereby slashing costs in one swift move by ending the ‘legal monopolies’ enjoyed by the companies that make them. Drugs can be very expensive – notoriously so – says Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont. And why should that be? It’s the patents that give individual companies marketing exclusivity for many years after approval. So let’s get rid of them. The US should create a $3 billion (£2 billion) annual prize fund to reward the discovery of new treatments instead, he says. The prize fund idea appears to have the backing of Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz – but it’s hard to imagine it winning much support with the pharma industry.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Is this the first drug based on stem cells to win marketing approval? The authorities in Canada have Prochymal (remestemcel-L) doses from US biotech Osiris Therapeutics, which says that this historic move is the first approval of a stem cell product. Prochymal (remestemcel-L) doses, which are administered through an intravenous line, contain mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) gathered from the bone marrow of healthy adults and grown up in culture. MSCs are already used before in treatment but they have not previously been available in a off-the-shelf product that doctors can use whenever they need to. The doses are approved for the management of acute graft-versus-host disease in children. The disease is a complication of bone marrow transplantation.

CHEMICAL – DuPont has completed its $295 million project to double production capacity of its polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) film for photovoltaic cells. The company is expecting demand to grow having recently signed supply contracts with several large solar panel manufacturers. For example it recently signed a $100 million strategic agreement with Yingli Green Energy. PVF films are used in the backsheets of photovoltaic cells.

CHEMICAL – According to new analysis, the European chemical industry will be dominated by: green products such as bioplastics, high demand for innovative chemicals and materials; and industry consolidation. Meanwhile, weight management and heart and digestive health will be the high growth sectors in the food and drink industries. The report from market research firm Frost & Sullivan says that China, Brazil and Russia are the top priority regions for companies involved in construction and utilities, while India becomes more important than Russia as you move towards transport owing to massive growth in automotive production. China in particular will draw in strong chemicals investment with its far reaching development of green technology in recent years. The report predicts a ‘mega acquisition of a top 100 global chemicals company headquartered in Europe’ in 2012, despite a fall in the number of deals as a result of the lower availability of cash.

CHEMICAL – Japanese chemical firm Kuraray has struck a deal to acquired a US manufacturer of polyvinyl alcohol film: MonoSol. Kuraray has previously stated that it is keen to expand its ‘vinyl acetate chemical chains business’, which it sees as a core activity. MonoSol makes polyvinyl alcohol film for a range of applications including: packaging for single dose detergent products and moulds for synthetic marble. The companies have not released financial details of the deal.

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Syngenta plans $1bn African business – Plavix patent expires – And DSM buys omega-3 company

CHEMICAL – Swiss agrichemical giant Syngenta has announced plans to create a $1 billion (£600 million) business in Africa over the next 10 years. ‘This engagement has been catalysed by the encouraging steps taken by a number of African governments to stimulate investment,’ said Syngenta chief executive Mike Mack. ‘We intend to play a leading role in public-private collaborations, which will be essential to making a planned transformation actually happen on the ground.’ Syngenta expects to invest $500 million gradually over the period, as well as hiring and training 700 new employees. It target is to reach five million farmers and enable them to improve their productivity by at least 50 percent.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Time has run out for the Plavix (clopidogrel) brand – the key patents have expired and Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi, which currently market anti-clotting Plavix tablets, will now face generic erosion of their sales. Clopidogrel is one of the biggest selling drugs of the last 20 years. And despite generic competition in some regions, such as India, it is still a huge drug in terms of sales: in 2011, it generated sales of $7.1 billion for Bristol-Myers Squibb and €410 million for Sanofi. But those good sales are now likely to fall dramatically. Dr Reddy’s, Gate, Mylan, Teva, Apotex, Aurobindo, Roxane, Sun Pharma and Torrent have all received approval to sell generic versions in the US, where clopidogrel is approved for treating patients who have recently had a heart attack or a stroke, or have partial or total blockage of an artery.

CHEMICAL – Netherlands speciality chemical company DSM has struck a deal to buy Ocean Nutrition Canada – a manufacturer of omega-3 fatty acids – for C$540 million (£340 million).  Ocean Nutrition Canada extracts omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. The acids are well known for their diverse health benefits and as such widely used in food, drink and dietary products. The company is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and employs 415 people. DSM already makes docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, plus arachidonic acid (ARA), a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, both from microbial sources. But it says that the markets for naturally occurring compounds of this type and equivalents from microbial sources are very different and as such the newly acquired products will not compete with its established portfolio. The move follows similar activity in this area very recently. Earlier this month, BASF announced its deal to buy UK omega-3 fatty acid manufacturer Equateq, which specialises in pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements.

CHEMICALDow has bought Lightscape Materials, a privately owned US company with intellectual property in phosphor technology for LEDs, for an undisclosed amount. The company was established by Gerard Frederickson and Yongchi Tian, who will continue as part of the Dow team, and a spin-off from SRI International, a non-profit US contract research institute based in California, US. Phosphors are used in LED lighting applications when colour quality is more important, such as in backlighting for LCD displays and illumination of residential, workplace and retail spaces. They enable the LED to create a wide spectrum of white light.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Indian healthcare company Piramal has signed a deal to by US market research firm Decision Resources for $635 million. Decision Resources sells information relating to the global healthcare industry, focusing on three market segments: biopharmaceuticals; ‘market access’ databases and analytical services; and medical devices. with predicted 2012 sales of $160 million.

Andrew Turley

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Weight loss drug gets positive opinion – GSK tax questioned – And Merck KGaA targets €300m in efficiency (more…)

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GSK goes to shareholders with HGS bid – BASF invests in omega-3 – And Abbott hit with $1.5bn Depakote fine (more…)

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Novartis expands generics business with $1.5 billion purchase – new Gaucher drug – And DSM buys medical business (more…)

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Watson buys Actavis for €4.3bn – Jazz buys Eusa for $700 million – AZ boss retires (more…)

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Solvay plans to for €3bn in earnings – Merck KGaA to cut 500 jobs – And Amgen buys Turkish drugmaker (more…)

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Zippy

The zipper metaphor - what were we telling the kids with this guy? Readers outside the UK might need some explanation: http://bit.ly/Juiv9o

As anyone who’s used Google today will already know, it’s the birthday of Gideon Sundback (1880–1954), the Swedish engineer who brought the zipper to the world. Sundback’s invention has obviously had a profound and lasting impact on the clothing industry, but its influence extends far beyond that. Notably (for us at least…) the humble zipper has become an indispensible metaphor in chemistry. (more…)

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