Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

I first heard the story of the discovery of nylon during a chemistry class in school – it was told as a serendipitous discovery. A young lab assistant, clearing up at the end of a long day, clumsily poured two mixtures in together and noticed a precipitate. Dipping in a stirring rod, he pulled out a thin string, which he stretched out into a tough, translucent fibre. He realised the potential of his discovery, reported it to his superiors and left them to the tiresome job of working out what he had done to make it.

The invention of nylon created a revolution in hosiery
©Shutterstock

It’s funny how we use accident to shape our understanding of discovery and achievement, as though we want to excuse hard work and apologise for years of learning. It’s somehow disappointing, unromantic: the story of research whisks away that tantalising fantasy of stumbling upon treasure, reserving discovery for the experts.

The real story of nylon, interesting though it may be, is a bit of stretch from serendipity. (more…)

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This week’s Chemistry in its element podcast tells the tragic tale of Wallace Carothers’ discovery of nylon. The compound drove American women to riot over the availability of stockings, but couldn’t save Carothers from his depression.

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GE Healthcare directs $1 billion of R&D towards cancer – DuPont wins $920 million in Kevlar case – And SAFC aims for $1 billion in sales (more…)

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Naphtha from plastic waste – BASF working on cooling stuff with magnetism – And postive opinion for anticancer drug Zytiga 

CHEMICAL – Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem says that from the end of 2012 it is going to start making naphtha – a broad mix of liquid hydrocarbons – from ‘post-consumption recycled plastic’. It will spend $25 million (£15 million) on a recycling unit from waste treatment company Novaenergia, which will supply the raw material. The unit will process 450 tonnes of waste per day, churning out about 1400 m3 of naphtha per year, as well as fuel oil. And Braskem says it will halve the amount of material that has to be dumped as landfill.

CHEMICAL – Süd-Chemie, a recently acquired subsidiary of Swiss chemical company Clariant, has started building a plant for converting agricultural waste into cellulosic ethanol as part of a €28 million (£25 million) project. The company says that it will be the largest such plant in Germany, producing 1000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol per year, primarily from wheat straw. The plant will use the ‘Sunliquid’ conversion process, which involves yeasts for biocatalysis and has already been tested at smaller scales.

GREENTECH – US chemical major DuPont has agreed to buy Innovalight, a company specialising in printing technology for silicon based photovoltaics. The companies have not disclosed financial terms. DuPont says it made  sales in 2010 of $1 billion from the photovoltaic market, and is aiming to reach annual sales of $2 billion by 2014.

CHEMICAL – German chemical major BASF is collaborating with the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) in the Netherlands on magnetocaloric materials – which the company says might make refrigeration gases obsolete. Magnetocaloric materials heat up when moved into a magnetic field and cool down when moved out. ‘Theoretical considerations reveal an energy savings potential of up to fifty per cent,’ says Thomas Weber, who heads the Future Business unit at BASF. The two organisations have been working on the materials since 2008 – the latest collaboration is to commercialise the materials, which do not need gaseous refrigerants to work as cooling systems.

PHARMACEUTICAL – US healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson has won a positive opinion in Europe for anticancer drug abiraterone, marketed as Zytiga in the US, where it was approved last month. The drug is for the treatment of prostate cancer. In trials, it has delivered a four month increase in overall survival – from 11 months to 15 – for patients who had already received some form of chemotherapy.

PHARMACEUTICAL – Fampyra (fampridine) from US biotech Biogen Idec has been approved in the EU to help patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) improve their walking. Most patients with MS lose the ability to walk as the disease progresses. The drug was developed by Acorda Therapeutics, which markets it as Ampyra in the US. Biogen Idec is licensed to develop and market fampridine in the rest of the world. The approval is ‘conditional’, meaning it must be renewed annually and more trials are needed. The EU uses conditional approvals to deliver new drugs, with the potential to drastically improve treatment, to the patient population faster than would otherwise be possible. Fampyra improves neurologic function by increasing impulse conduction across demyelinated neurons.

Andrew Turley

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ENERGY: Shale gas gets UK go ahead

Only the crumbliest, flakiest...

A committee of politicians in the UK has given a green light to shale gas drilling in a report on potential impacts on water supplies, energy security and greenhouse gas emissions.

Shale gas is methane locked up in underground formations of shale, a flaky, brittle kind of sedimentary rock. The gas can be extracted by hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, which has been criticised by environmental groups, which say it can lead to contamination of water supplies and leakage of gases into the atmosphere.

The committee concluded that a moratorium in the UK was not justified or necessary at present. ‘There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling,’ said committee chair Tim Yeo. ‘But our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk.’ (more…)

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PHARMACEUTICAL: Teva buys Taiyo

Israeli generics manufacturer Teva has agreed to buy for $460 million (£280 million) in cash a 57 per cent stake in privately held Japanese generics manufacturer Taiyo. Taiyo boasts a portfolio of 550 generic drugs, which generated sales of $530 million in 2010. Japan is the second largest pharma market, after the US, but uptake of generics in Japan has been comparatively slow. Teva is aiming to reach sales of $1 billion in Japan by 2015.  (more…)

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PHARMACEUTICAL: US all clear for Tradjenta

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Tradjenta (linagliptin) for the treatment of diabetes. The drug is the result of a collaboration between German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim and US pharma giant Eli Lilly. (more…)

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PHARMACEUTICAL: Dr Reddy’s UK investment

Generics manufacturer Dr Reddy’s opened a newly expanded R&D centre in Cambridge, UK, which will be part of subsidiary Chirotech. Currently, 40 people are employed at the site, and the company says the move will allow for an initial doubling of the workforce, with scope for further expansion after that. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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Forest pays $1.2bn to merge with Clinical Data

US pharma company Forest Laboratories has agreed to buy Clinical Data for $30 (£19) per share in cash, equivalent to $1.2 billion, plus $6 per share payable if Viibryd (vilazodone) achieves certain commercial milestones. Forest intends to use existing cash to finance the deal. (more…)

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