In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover the Glivec fast-track, a new diagnostic test to help organ transplant patients, and China’s coal-to-liquids cuts.
Huntsman shareholders try to push through Hexion deal: A group of hedge funds holding shares in US chemicals company Huntsman have offered to provide at least $500 million in funds to help finance the company’s takeover by Hexion. But Hexion parent company Apollo swiftly rejected the proposal, saying it ‘does not come close to making the combined company solvent’. In July 2007, Huntsman agreed to be bought by Hexion for $10.6 billion, but Hexion is now looking to back out of the deal, arguing that, because of Huntsman’s poor recent performance, the funding structure of the deal would render the combined company insolvent.
China chemical plant blast: A series of explosions at a chemical plant in China has killed 20 employees, and left 60 others injured. A fire that broke out in a workshop on 26 August spread through the plant in Yizhou city, Guangxi province, causing the evacuation of 11,500 local residents in case of further explosions and chemical leaks. Chinese authorities say the blast did not cause serious pollution to air or water sources in the area.
Job cuts keep coming: Belgian pharmaceutical firm UCB is cutting 2000 jobs - 17 per cent of its staff - in a bid to cut costs and improve profitability. The company says it plans to transform into a specialist company, focused on Central Nervous System and immunology disease areas.
King rebuffed: Alpharma has rejected a $1.43 billion takeover offer from fellow US pharmaceutical firm King Pharmaceuticals - although King says it remains confident that a deal can be struck. The deal would expand King’s operations into the pain treatment market.
Roche part-funds eye drug: Roche has agreed a deal to share the costs of its eye drug Lucentis with the UK National Health Service. Following an agreement with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the NHS will pay for the first 14 doses of the drug - used to treat wet age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness among the elderly - and Roche will pay for any further treatments that the patient requires. However, currently doctors often use closely related drug Avastin to treat the condition, which is approved to treat cancer and available much more cheaply.
GSK seals epilepsy drug deal: GSK has announced a deal worth up to $820 million to develop and market an experimental epilepsy drug with US drugmaker Valeant. GSK will pay $125 million up front for retigabine, and up to a further $545 million if the drug reaches key development and sales milestones. Valeant could also receive $150 million based on the development of other compounds. Retigabine has already been tested in two large late-stage trials, and the two companies plan to file for US and European regulatory approval by early 2009.
Deaths halt cancer therapy trial: Cell Genesys has stopped a Phase III trial of its prostate cancer treatment, GVAX, after 20 more patients taking the drug died than those in a control group. The cause of the deaths has not yet been established.
Organ transplant tool: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a test to help doctors monitor organ rejection after transplant. The diagnostic test, called AlloMap and made by US firm XDx, measures gene expression in white blood cells, and can reveal patients least likely to reject a transplanted organ after surgery.
Barr wins Alzheimer’s drug ruling: A US court has cleared generic drugmaker Barr to sell copies of Johnson & Johnson’s Alzheimer’s drug Razadyne. J&J maintains that the patent for the drug remains valid, and says it will appeal the decision. Barr first challenged the patent in 2005.
FDA fast-tracks Glivec: The FDA is to fast-track its review of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis’s cancer drug Glivec, completing the review in six months rather than 10. The drug is already approved to treat leukemia and gastrointestinal cancers, and has now been shown to reduce the risk of certain stomach and intestinal cancers returning after surgical removal.
China cans coal-to-liquids projects: The Chinese authorities have ordered all but two coal-to-liquids fuel projects to be suspended, in a bid to ease pressure on coal supplies, which is driving up prices. South Africa’s Sasol says its joint venture feasibility study in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region is one of the two projects to survive the cuts. But a second Sasol project in Shaanxi will not proceed at this stage, the company says.
Bayer first approval: Bayer says it has received the Romanian regulatory approval for thiencarbazone-methyl, its new active ingredient to control a range of weeds in corn fields. Bayer says it hopes this first approval will be followed by other European and US regulators, and is planning a 2009 launch for the product. Thiencarbazone-methyl is a new sulfonyl-amino-carbonyl-triazolinone, which will be mixed with isoxaflutole, an existing active ingredient.
DuPont expands seed research: DuPont has opened two new research centres in Europe to develop crop traits for corn, sunflower and oilseed rape grown in Europe. The US firm is investing $5 million to establish the two new centres, which are based in Hungary and Italy.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover the legal clash over nylon, another 1000 jobs lost in pharma, and the impotence drug offering prostate relief.
BASF to sell styrenics: Germany’s BASF has continued the process of reorganising and divesting its global styrenics business, setting up new subsidiaries to operate independently. The new companies are expected to be established in January 2009, and BASF’s styrenic copolymer production plants will now also be included in the divestment. The business earned BASF ?4 billion in 2007.
Invista sues Rhodia and DuPont: US fibres and polymers company Invista has sued rivals Rhodia and DuPont, accusing them of conspiracy and theft of trade secrets. Invista says the two firms are unlawfully using its trade secrets to expand their nylon chemicals business, and that the suit was necessary to stop them using Invista’s proprietory technology to build an adiponitrile plant. Rhodia says there is no merit in the allegations, adding that it follows several other unsuccessful litigation efforts Invista has pursued against the company, and that it will continue to develop its polyamide business.
Bayer building: Bayer has announced it will this year start construction on a 250,000 tonne per year world scale facility to make toluene diisocyanate, a component of polyurethane, in Shanghai. The factory will boost Bayer’s total capacity to over 700,000 tonnes per year, and will be the first to use the company’s gas phase phosgene technology, which will reduce solvent consumption by 80 per cent and cut energy consumption by 60 per cent.
Evonik reshuffle: Werner Muller, chairman of Germany’s Evonik, has announced he is to step down as of 31 December 2008. Muller, who oversaw the birth of Evonik from RAG group (which included Degussa), will be replaced by Klaus Engel on 1 January 2009.
Abbott to cut 1000 jobs: US pharmaceutical firm Abbott is to cut 1000 jobs from its 68,000 worldwide workforce over the next four years, in a bid to cut costs in manufacturing and its diagnostics business. The cuts will trim about 10 per cent of the company’s diagnostics jobs. About 100 jobs will be lost with the closure of a clinical chemistry plant in South Pasadena, California, with the rest of the job losses yet to be specified. Making the cuts will cost the company $370 million, but is expected to bring annual pre-tax savings of $150 million.
Impotence drug offers prostate relief: A study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Eli Lilly has shown that a low dose of Lilly’s impotence drug Cialis can ease the symptoms caused by enlarged prostates, which includes trouble urinating. Cialis caused fewer side effects than current drugs on the market, the scientists report. Prostate enlargement affects about 50 per cent of men over 50, suggesting a large potential market for such drugs.
First Huntingdon’s drug approved: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first drug to treat the symptoms of the neurodegenerative disorder Huntingdon’s disease. Xenazine, made by Prestwick Pharmaceuticals, treats chorea - jerky, involuntary movements - by lowering levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
BMS antibody deal: Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed a multimillion dollar deal to develop and commercialise an antibody-based cancer drug developed by PDL BioPharma. Elotuzumab, currently in Phase I trials for multiple myeloma, tags cancer cells for destruction by the body’s immune system. BMS will pay PDL $30 million upfront, but may pay a further $680 million if the drug reaches key developmental, regulatory and sales milestones. BMS also has an option to collaborate with PDL on a second antibody, PDL241.
Merck in more hot water over Vioxx: A 1999 Merck clinical study of painkiller Vioxx - now withdrawn - was run primarily to support a pre-launch marketing campaign, researchers report. The findings are based on internal Merck records that were released during court proceedings over the drug. Such a practice would raise ethical questions, as patients enrolled in the study are potentially risking their health in the belief that they are assisting a scientific study, when the true aim is to assist marketing.
Lilly buys dairy drug: Eli Lilly has agreed to buy Monsanto’s Posilac business - a hormone given to dairy cows to boost milk production - in a deal worth $300 million plus ‘contingent consideration’. Lilly will integrate the business into its Elanco animal health arm. Monsanto announced two weeks ago that it was planning to sell the business, in order to concentrate on its core crop products.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover biofuel microgeneration, Asian expansion, and cheaper solar silicon.
Microchannel catalysis: UK-based Oxford Catalysts have developed a microchannel-based Fischer-Tropsch catalyst that could be used to make second generation biofuels from agricultural waste. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with a developer to deploy the catalyst in small-scale, decentralised biofuel production applications.
Relocation, relocation: German speciality chemicals company Lanxess is to relocate its headquarters to Cologne. The firm has been based in Leverkusen since it split away from parent company Bayer in 2005. Lanxess says it has outgrown its Leverkusen facilities, and plans to relocate to Cologne by 2011, where it is evaluating possible sites.
CSL buys blood plasma rival: Australian blood plasma product maker CSL as agreed to buy US-based Talecris Biotherapeutics for $3.1 billion, subject to regulatory approval. CSL says the acquisition would complement the company’s existing business, particularly within plasma therapeutics. Talecris’s biggest selling product is Gamunex, made from blood plasma antibodies and used to treat primary humoral immunodeficiency disease.
Genentech rejects Roche bid: Genentech directors have unanimously rejected Roche’s $44 billion offer to buy out the remaining shares in the US-based biotech firm, saying it significantly undervalues the company. Roche already owns a controlling stake, but is looking to integrate the two companies more closely. However, Genentech says the Roche proposal was unsolicited and unexpected, although the company says it would consider a proposal that ‘recognises the value of the company’.
Anticancer antibody: Publishing in Science, US biotech Micromet has released Phase I clinical trial data showing that their antibody-based treatment is effective in halting the progress of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The antibody, called blinatumomab, effectively binds to tumour cells to T cells - which form part of the immune system - enabling the body’s own immune system to attack the tumour, an aim that had previously proved elusive. Phase II trails are ongoing.
Crestor sales deal: AstraZeneca and Abbott have struck a deal for Abbott to promote Crestor, AstraZeneca’s blockbuster statin, in the US. The deal means both firms’ sales teams will promote the drug to doctors.
Schering in Shanghai: US pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough is to expand its Chinese presence, after buying two local firms - Shanghai Pharmaceutical Industry Company and Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group - with which it has operated a local joint venture since 1994. The company will manufacture, market and distribute its drugs in the country.
Battling the generics: France’s Sanofi-aventis has filed a lawsuit against Canadian generic drugmaker Apotex, which is planning to sell a copy of blockbuster cancer drug Taxotere in the US. The lawsuit triggers a 30 month stay in the FDA’s approval of the generic. Meanwhile, US generics maker Barr is to settle two patent disputes with German firm Boehringer Ingelheim. Barr will pay Boehringer royalties, plus promote the German firm’s drugs, in return for permission to launch generic copies of the two drugs earlier than the disputed patents are set to expire.
Solar saver: German firms Evonik and Solar World have opened a new solar silicon production plant in Rheinfelden, Germany, as part of their Joint Solar Silicon joint venture. The companies say their manufacturing process, which produces ultra-thin solar silicon wafers, saves up to 90 per cent of the energy used in conventional solar silicon production. The new facility has an annual capacity of 850 tonnes of solar silicon, and is supplied with raw materials by an Evonik monosilane plant.
Egyptian case closed: Canadian fertilizer firm Agrium has settled its dispute with Egypt over the cancellation of the company’s $1.4 billion project to build a nitrogen plant in the country. The project had been stopped in April 2008 after protests by local people. Under the new deal, the project will be acquired by the state-owned MISR Oil Processing Company, as part of a share-swap which gives Agrium shareholders a 26 per cent stake in the venture.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover coal chemicals, drug raids by the US Marshals, and Monsanto’s move to quit the cow business.
Sabic licenses spheripol: Sabic affiliate Arabian Industrial Fibres has licensed LyondellBasell’s spheripol polypropylene production technology for its new plant. The Netherlands-based company’s technology, which is based around a multi-zone reactor, will be installed at the 525 kilotonne per year facility being built in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. Production at the plant is due to start in 2012.
Chemicals from coal: US industrial gas company Air Products has agreed a deal to supply gases to Shaan’xi Weihe Coal Chemical group, who will use coal-to-chemicals technology to make methanol, acetic acid, acetic anhydride, and syngas. Air Products will build a new air separation unit at the site, which is based in Weihe in Shaan’xi Province, western China.
Seal Sands EU approval: UK chemicals group Ineos says it has received unconditional EU approval for its proposed purchase of the Seal Sands site, on Teesside, UK, from Germany’s BASF. Ineos expects the deal to complete within a month.
Shell appointments: Shell Chemical have named Nigel Hobson (below, left) as vice president of Operations and Health, Safety, Security and Environment. Graham Van’t Hoff (below, right) has also been named vice president of Global Base Chemicals.
Tablets seized: US marshals have seized $74,000 (£38,500)-worth of unapproved pills that drugmaker SEI Pharmaceuticals had refused to recall as requested by the US Food and Drug Administration. FDA analysis had shown that the tablets, called Xiadafil VIP, contained hydroxyhomosildenafil - an analogue of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Xiadafil is not approved for erectile dysfunction, or any other drug use. Marshals also seized $24.2 million worth of unapproved new drugs from Missouri-based KV Pharmaceutical, after FDA inspectors found the company was manufacturing unapproved new drugs such as products for cough, cold, topical wound healing, skin bleaching, and gastrointestinal conditions, as well as narcotic drug products.
ImClone rebuffs BMS: ImClone’s board of directors say Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $60 per share takeover offer ’substantially undervalues’ the firm. On 31 July Bristol Myers offered $4.7 billion to buy the outstanding 83 per cent of ImClone shares that the company doesn’t already own.
Side effects hit shares: Shares in US-based Biogen and Ireland’s Elan fell 28 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively, after two new cases of a potentially fatal brain disease were linked to Tysabri, their multiple sclerosis drug. Tysabri was withdrawn from sale in 2005 over concerns it could trigger progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, but was allowed back on to the market in 2006, and is typically used as a drug of last resort when patients have developed resistance to first line treatments. The condition currently has no cure.
Lilly sells drug development site: US pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly is to sell its Greefield, Indiana drug development site to Covance for $50 million. The two companies also will sign a 10-year, $1.6 billion service agreement, whereby Covance will assume responsibility for Lilly’s toxicology testing and other R&D support activities at the site. Lilly claims the move will help improve productivity by gaining speed to market and lowering drug development costs.
Sanofi signs knock-out deal: Sanofi-aventis has agreed to pay $21.5 million to New York-based Regeneron for the rights to use its VelociGene technology, which is used to develop knock-out and transgenic models of target genes.
Questioning cost-effectiveness: In a preliminary report, the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has rejected four treatments for kidney cancer, which are clinically effective but not cost-effective, from being provided by the National Health Service. The drugs - Pfizer’s Sutent, Roche and Genentech’s Avastin, Bayer’s Nexavar and Wyeth’s Torisel - cost between £20,000 and £35,000 per year, exceeding Nice’s value for money threshold (cost per quality-adjusted life year).
Monsanto to sell dairy business: Monsanto has announced plans to sell its bovine somatotropin product, Posilac, which is given to dairy cows to boost milk yield. Posilac is the only animal pharmaceutical owned by the company, which says it plans to focus on its core seed and traits business.
BP biofuel partnership: BP is to pay Verenium $90 million over the next 18 months as the two firms bid to develop and commercialise cellulosic ethanol production from ‘energy grasses’ including sugar cane and miscanthus. The companies hope to set up commercial-scale production facilities for the biofuel.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover a revolution in Alzheimer’s disease research, more trouble for Merck and Schering-Plough’s cholesterol drug and how the world demand for food is making potash a hot commodity
Alzheimer’s drug slows mental decline: Singapore-based spin-out company TauRx Therapeutics received widespread attention at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, as new data showed that its drug remberTM dramatically slowed cognitive decline associated with the disease. In a small phase II clinical trial (321 patients), remberTM slowed decline in 81 percent of patients taking the drug. This is the first clinically-tested therapy to target tau protein, which forms insoluble bundles of fibrils, or neurofibrillary tangles, found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
According to business analyst Datamonitor, the 2008 conference may in the future be viewed as a ‘water-shed in the development of truly effective disease modifying treatments’. The physical changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s are the formation of insoluble plaques – made primarily of the peptide amyloid-beta, and tau neurofibrillary tangles. And while treatments targeting amyloid-beta plaques have produced some disappointing clinical results, approaches targeting tau are emerging as the most promising candidates.
Pfizer in Hungary research hub discussions: Pfizer may set up a $30 million research division in Hungary, according to Budapest-based newspaper Vilaggazdasag. Pfizer’s Hungarian subsidiary is competing with several east European countries to host a facility that will employ between 75 and 120 researchers. A decision on the site is expected later this year.
BMS offers $4.5 billion for Imclone: Bristol-Myers Squibb has offered to buy the 83 per cent of biotechnology firm ImClone it does not already own for $4.5 billion. The offer values ImClone at around $5.2 billion. BMS is already ImClone’s largest shareholder, and the two companies have jointly produced the blockbuster cancer drug Erbitux.
Abbott settles over Norvir: Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay between $10 million and $27.5 million to settle a lawsuit contending it improperly raised the price of its HIV drug Norvir by 400 per cent. AIDS patients and health plans sued Abbott in 2004, contending the company violated antitrust laws and engaged in unfair business practices by overcharging for Norvir. UK pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced that it would also sue Abbott in 2007 over the price increase.
Panel seeks Vytorin study data: The US House Energy and Commerce Committee wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to turn over the results of an analysis looking into the potential links between cancer and the cholesterol drug Vytorin, jointly produced by Merck and Schering-Plough. A large scale clinical trial called the Seas study, looking at Vytorin’s efficacy in reducing cholesterol, unexpectedly found an increased risk of cancer and deaths from cancer in patients taking Vytorin, compared with those given a placebo.
Chairman of the committee, John Dingell, said in a statement: ‘I’m interested in learning what the FDA plans to do about this questionable drug. Our investigation will continue as we explore whether Vytorin may be more dangerous than we had previously been led to believe.’
Pharma stem cell alliance: GSK has entered into a five year, $25 million collaboration with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). The agreement is one of the largest investments in stem cell research by pharma, and reflects big pharma’s growing interest in the area. GSK will fund some early stage stem cell biology research, but the fund will primarily support stem cell science related to new medicine discovery in a variety of areas from neuroscience to cancer to obesity.
Amgen bone drug bonus: US biotech company Amgen says the key clinical trial for its experimental bone density-building drug denosumab shows the medicine significantly reduces the risk of spinal and hip fracture among women with osteoporosis. The company’s share price rose 15 per cent on the news. Amgen plans to file for FDA approval for the drug before the end of 2008.
Sanofi vaccine deal: UK vaccine maker Acambis has agreed to be taken over by France’s Sanofi-aventis in a deal worth £276 million. The two companies are currently collaborating over three projects. Big pharma is growing increasingly interested in vaccines, and the French firm recently opened a ?100 million vaccine production facility.
Pfizer Australia fine: Pfizer’s Australian arm has been fined Aus$200,000, and ordered to write corrective letters to doctors, after Medicines Australia found that the company’s representatives had ‘engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct’ over claims they made about rival cholesterol drug Crestor, made by competitor firm AstraZeneca. Pfizer says senior management were unaware of the practice.
Genentech investigates Roche bid: Genentech directors are assessing Roche’s $44 billion move to buy out the remaining shares in the US-based biotech firm. Roche already owns a controlling stake, but is looking to integrate the two companies more closely. However, Genentech says the Roche proposal was unsolicited and unexpected, and that the company has no obligation under the Affiliation Agreement to agree to a transaction.
Bayer progresses potential blockbuster: Bayer has won European Committee of Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) approval for its once a day anticoagulant pill rivaroxaban. Bayer says it expects final EU approval within the next few months, and predicts the drug could make over ?2 billion in peak annual sales. On 30 July the company also announced it had submitted the drug for US FDA approval.
Plavix patent dented: A German court has ruled that generic drug makers Ratiopharm and Yes can sell their own version of anticlotting drug Plavix. Sanofi-aventis and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s co-market the drug, which with 2007 sales of $7.3 billion is the world’s second highest seller after Pfizer’s Lipitor. The generic versions of the drug are a different salt of the active ingredient (clopidogrel besylate rather than the original clopidogrel bisulfate) – making them different under patent law, but interchangeable under EU medical law.
EU and US differ over anti-anaesthetic: Despite its recent EU approval, Schering-Plough’s Bridion, a drug that helps patients quickly emerge from anaesthesia following surgery, has received a ‘not-approvable’ letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The cyclodextrin-based structure also known as sugammadex, was acquired by Schering when it bought Organon from Akzo Nobel in 2007 for $14.5 billion. Analysts had suggested the drug could reach annual sales of $1 billion, if approved in key markets, including such as the US. The company says that the issues raised by the FDA were primarily related to hypersensitivity and allergic reactions, and not to the efficacy of sugammadex. It plans to continue working with the agency to address the problems.
Metabolomics of biofuels: US metabolomics biomarker discovery firm Metabolon is to work with biofuels developer LS9. Metabolon will look for metabolite changes occurring during LS9’s fermentation-based biofuel production process, profiling all the biochemical reactions taking place in order to optimise the process.
Potash price surge: Potash mines are struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand, as the pressure on fertiliser supplies increases on the back of the growth and increase in wealth of the world population. The demand has meant boosted profits for fertiliser and agricultural products companies. One producer of phosphate and potash fertiliser, Mosaic, said global potash imports are forecasted to climb another 7 per cent to nearly 50 million tonnes in 2009, with rising usage in India a key cause of growth.
BASF to boost investment in crop protection: BASF Crop Protection plans to invest more than ?150 million in additional capacity to meet the growing demand for key crop protection products in the coming years. A two-year expansion project will increase capacity at production facilities in Germany, France, Brazil and the US for top-selling active ingredients such as F 500, boscalid, fipronil and metazachlor.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover Roche’s spending spree, a meeting of generic giants, and the bioethanol bonanza.
Evonik boosts peroxide sales: Korea’s SKC has started up the world’s first commercial-scale plant making propylene oxide (PPO) using hydrogen peroxide. The technology is licensed from German firm Evonik, who developed a new catalyst to make PPO from propylene and hydrogen peroxide. Evonik, the world’s second largest producer of hydrogen peroxide, say the new technology could boost the hydrogen peroxide market by 200,000 tonnes per year over the next decade.
Air sells healthcare arm: US-based Air Products has announced it will sell its underperforming US healthcare business. From the fourth financial quarter of 2008, the company will report the business as a discontinued operation - and take a $315 million (£158 million) charge - but will continue to operate the healthcare arm until a buyer can be found.
Reach bulk registration comes online: The European Chemicals Agency has overcome the computer glitch that prevented companies from bulk pre-registering all the substances they produce or use that fall under the new Reach regulation. The bug had meant companies had had to pre-register all their substances one by one. Companies have until 1 December to pre-register their entire inventory of substances.
Sabic streamlining: The European arm of Saudi petrochemicals firm Sabic is to restructure its aromatics production on Teesside, UK. To ensure long-term economic viability of the site, the Aromatics 2 unit will be closed, but the remaining Aromatics 1 unit may be upgraded.
Roche stops HIV drug research: Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche has suspended its HIV drug research programme, after deciding that none of the candidates in its current pipeline are significantly better than existing drugs. The company had several candidates in preclinical trials. Meanwhile, Roche has also announced it plans to buy out minority shareholders in Genentech, which the Swiss firm already majority owns buy currently runs largely independently. Roche plans to pay $43 billion for the outstanding stake, and plans to tighten its cooperation with the US biotech arm. Roche has also agreed to buy US RNAi therapeutics firm Mirus, who have developed a proprietary method to deliver RNA into cells. The company will also acquire Arius for approximately $191 million. The Toronto, Canada-based firm have developed a screening technology to rapidly identify antibodies that are promising drug leads.
Generics giants to merge: Israel-based generic drug giant Teva is to buy US rival Barr, in a deal worth $7.46 billion. Teva says that buying Barr - the world’s fourth largest generic drug firm - will strengthen its position in the US, but also in key European markets. The company’s combined 2007 revenues would have totalled $11.9 billion.
Vytorin further failure: US pharmaceutical firms Merck and Schering-Plough have had more negative news over cholesterol drug Vytorin, after a clinical trial showed the drug failed to meet the main goal of a heart study looking at thickening of the main valve to the aorta. Vytorin sales have slipped since a study showed the drug was no better at cutting arterial plaque than a cheap statin. The latest study also suggested the drug could increase the risk of cancer - although the study’s authors dismiss the finding as an anomaly.
GSK settles over Relenza: GSK has agreed to pay Aus$20 million (£9.6 million) to settle claims by Biota, the Australian biotech firm that originally developed GSK’s flu drug Relenza, that the UK pharma company had failed to make sufficient efforts to market the drug. Biota had originally sought Aus$430 million in damages. Sales of Relenza, which has to be inhaled, have lagged far behind those of Tamiflu, which governments have stockpiled in case of a global flu pandemic - although a recent study highlighted the danger of only stockpiling a single drug.
British Energy takeover: British Energy, the UK’s nuclear operator, is expected to announce that it will be bought by French energy firm EDF, in a deal that values the company at £12.4 billion. EDF is reportedly looking to agree a deal with UK firm Centrica - who owns British Gas - to take a minority stake in British Energy, ensuring the nuclear energy firm remains partially UK-owned.
Bioethanol bonanza: UK petrochemicals firm Ineos says it plans to start making bioethanol from municipal waste, using a patented biocatalytic process, within two years. Ineos has piloted the use of bacteria to make the ethanol from syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen produced by superheating waste. Meanwhile, Dow and the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are to jointly develop a similar process, using a catalyst to turn the syngas into a mixture of alcohols including ethanol. The feedstock for the process is non-food biomass such as corn plant leaves and wood waste. And DuPont and Danisco, who in May formed a joint venture to produce cellulose from ethanol, are collaborating with the University of Tenessee to build a pilot-scale biorefinery. The plant will convert the high cellulose content of switchgrass fuel crops into bioethanol.
Carbofuran ban: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved to ban carbofuran residues in food and drinking water - effectively banning the pesticide’s use. While carbofuran is not widely used in the US, the residue ban also applies to imported foods, and the compound is used more widely in the developing world. FMC is the sole manufacturer of carbofuran in the US, and is already battling the EPA in the courts as the regulator bids to cancel the pesticide’s registration.
BASF Amflora legal challenge: Germany’s BASF has filed an action with the European Court against the EU Commission for failing to act in the approval process for the company’s genetically modified starch potato, Amflora. The crop was deemed safe by the European Food Standards Authority in 2006, but the EU Commissioner has since failed to authorise the potato for cultivation.
In this week’s Chemistry World business news round-up, we cover Roche’s suspension, new obligations for nanotechnology firms and power from manure.
New leader for ACC
Former Democratic congressman Calvin Dooley will succeed Jack Gerard as president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council. Dooley is currently president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a trade group representing food manufacturers. He will take over on 8 September. Gerard will move on to the top job at the American Petroleum Institute.
Ashland’s Herculean deal
Leading US speciality chemicals firm Ashland has confirmed that it has entered into a merger with Hercules, a leading supplier of speciality chemicals to the pulp and paper industry. Ashland will pay approximately $3.3 billion to acquire Hercules. The transaction, which would create a major, global specialty chemicals company, is expected to close by the end of 2008. According to James O’Brien, Ashland’s chief executive, the merger will combine the paper and water businesses of each company to create a global business with annual revenue of $2 billion.
GSK bids high for sleep drug
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is set to pay £1.6 billion to Switzerland-based biopharmaceutical firm Actelion for Almorexant, Actelion’s insomnia drug currently in phase III development. Both companies say the drug has ‘first-in-class potential’, but critics are suggesting that GSK may have paid over the odds for a late-stage addition to its pipeline. GSK will receive exclusive worldwide rights to co-develop and co-commercialise almorexant, and will contribute 40 per cent of the costs of the development programme and potential registration. The drug blocks orexin receptors in the brain which play an important role in the ‘sleep-wake cycle’.