Phillip Broadwith


In the wake of AstraZeneca’s (AZ) stout rebuttal of Pfizer’s overtures to a takeover bid, media all over the place are reporting the ‘disappointing’ news that AZ’s share price has ‘tumbled’. In my opinion this is typical of the short-memory effect that looking at share prices seems to somehow bestow on even some quite sensible people.

Look at the facts and circumstances – AZ has just been subject of speculation over a possible takeover. This inevitably leads to an increase in the share price as speculators look to take advantage of the premium price that any bid is bound to offer, or the rising price in the build-up (partly caused by demand arising from their own speculation).

Once the possibility of that short-term gain is removed – in this case by AZ shutting the door in Pfizer’s face – the price will inevitably go down, as those short-term investors seek to cash in their holdings and go off elsewhere in search of another stock that’s on the rise.

But here’s the important bit. AZ’s share price is still significantly higher than it was in the middle of April, before all this talk started. The only people who have actually lost money are the ones who bought their shares after 25 April, and sold them yesterday or today.

Pfizer (red) and AZ (blue) over the last month (from Google finance)

It is slightly more revealing to look at Pfizer’s share price over the last couple of months, which overall is significantly down. This wasn’t helped by some decidedly mediocre sales figures in the company’s quarterly announcement at the beginning of May. And the further Pfizer’s price falls, the less valuable that combined cash-and-stock offer becomes.

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It’s spring. It’s the end of the financial year for many companies. And it’s the time of year when a lot of them hold annual shareholders’ meetings, so there’s a certain temptation to make announcements that will excite shareholders (or maybe that’s just me being cynical). Some or all of those things may be contributing to the media and rumour mills working overtime about mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors.

Its a deal

It seems to be open season for pharma deals, but how many of them will actually go through?

For the last few years, things have been rather quiet in terms of pharma megamergers – in which already large companies crash together in the hope of finding ‘efficiency savings’ and ‘synergies’. Most of the more recent deals have been big companies snapping up smaller startups to acquire specific products or technologies that fit with their priorities. A lot of analysts and industry commentators have been making noises along the lines of ‘pharma has learned its lesson: megamergers cause a lot of disruption for not much overall gain’.

But then, in February, consultancy firm McKinsey put out a report that essentially said, ‘you know what, those mergers did actually do something positive, they “resulted in positive returns for shareholders”’. Whether or not this is a good thing for the overall health of the firms, and of their R&D pipelines is another discussion entirely.

(more…)

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The Pittsburgh Conference, or PittCon as it’s affectionately known, is one of the biggest lab equipment trade fairs on the planet. There are hundreds of exhibitors dazzling audiences with their latest shiny new instruments.

Everything is that little bit better, faster, more reliable than the competition in some way or another, and as a self-confessed amateur when it comes to most of this kit, it can be hard to see through the spiel to find out what’s really groundbreaking. But a few little things have caught my eye on my wander around the exhibition hall. (more…)

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It’s funny the things that you see on Twitter. When this tweet appeared from RetractionWatch guru Ivan Oransky, it got me wondering why a Pharma company like GSK would be selling off over 350 paintings.

A quick call to GSK’s Philadelphia,US, office provided the simple explanation. According to company spokesperson Jennifer Armstrong, GSK is moving its Philadelphia operations to a brand new building, which opens this weekend. ‘The new workspace is completely open, without any individual offices, so we don’t have so many interior walls to hang artwork. The walls we do have are also used for other purposes – they’re either glass, or for writing on or tacking things to,’ she says.

GSK's new Philadelphia home

GSK’s new Philadelphia home

(more…)

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Modern computer games consoles have controllers that vibrate – when you crash your car in a racing game or get shot in a shoot-em-up, you get a jolt through your fingers, which is designed to increase the realism of the game and enhance your experience.

Imagine if you could do the same thing with chemistry. You sketch out some molecules, then move them together to see if (or how) they will react. As virtual electron clouds approach each other, they push back, resisting your efforts to push them any closer. You try different angles until you find the right geometry, or push hard enough to force them to react with each other. (more…)

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All over the UK this morning, news organisations are talking about a cloud of sulfurous gas emanating from a factory operated by specialist lubricants and paints firm Lubrizol in Rouen, France. The gas is spreading northwards on the wind, covering vast swathes of southern England, and southwards to the French capital, Paris.

While it has not yet reached the secret Chemistry World bunker, ‘Le pong’ – as some newspaper editors have dubbed it – has already caused considerable disruption and discomfort. A French football match was postponed and lots of people are complaining about the smell.

(more…)

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Over the last few months, the RSC has been running a competition, asking people to try and explain the Mpemba effect – why does hot water freeze faster than cold water?

The effect has puzzled scientists throughout history, but was most recently brought to light again in the 1960s by Eristo Mpemba, a student from Tanzania who challenged the received wisdom of his teachers and ended up writing a paper on the phenomenon with a local university professor, Denis Osborne.

Over 22,000 people from 122 countries submitted their theories and potential explanations for the effect, ranging from the hare-brained and humorous to more thorough and considered arguments. These entries were then whittled down to 11 by an international panel of judges and a public vote.

On Friday of last week, the RSC held an awards ceremony to announce the winner. Mpemba himself flew in from Tanzania to attend, and Osborne also joined the gathering at Burlington House in London.

(more…)

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Microwaves - not magic

Microwaves – not magic

In an essay article in Angewandte Chemie, Oliver Kappe from the University of Graz, Austria, is trying to lay to rest the idea that microwave reactors can accelerate chemical reaction by doing anything other than heating.

The main thrust of the argument is that it is essentially impossible to accurately measure the temperature of a reaction mixture without a direct, internal fibre-optic probe. Using the external infrared sensors fitted to most microwave reactors simply doesn’t cut it if you really want to work out whether what you’re seeing is really a special effect of microwave irradiation, or just an artefact of differences in heating. (more…)

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Brian Kobilka

Brian Kobilka is probably having a pretty good day today.

Not only is he in Stockholm delivering his Nobel lecture and settling down for a banquet with the  Swedish royal family as he picks up his medal for this year’s Nobel prize in chemistry, but he has a paper in Nature today as well.

Is this timing purely a coincidence, or a subtle tribute on the part of the Nature editors? The more cynical among you may call it good marketing, but I’d like to think of it as a metaphorical doff of the cap.

Kobilka, a relatively press-shy academic from Stanford University in California, US, was thrust into the limelight in October when he shared this year’s chemistry Nobel with his former mentor, Bob Lefkowitz. You can read more about the pair and their work on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) in my feature article.

The latest paper is yet another in a long line of GPCR structures that Kobilka and his team have solved, showing  protease activated receptor 1 (PAR1) bound to cancer drug vorapaxar. The drug binds very strongly to the receptor, and the structure throws a little light on why that is.

I hope all this year’s Nobel laureates enjoy today’s festivities, it is certainly a well-earned party!

Phillip Broadwith

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Over at CENtral Science, they’re having a food chemistry blog carnival in the run up to Thanksgiving. As my contribution, I thought I’d share a recent food chemistry encounter with you all…

Whether you prefer butterscotch, toffee, honeycomb hokey pokey, spun sugar, nut brittle or the unctuous dulce di leche, caramelised sugar is a sticky treat that goes straight to the heart of most people’s idea of pleasure on a plate (or in a bowl of icecream…)

The chemistry of caramelisation is fascinating, but the other day, while I was settled in front of the TV to catch up on the Great British bake off masterclass on crème caramel, the description of the process had me shouting indignantly at the screen. (more…)

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