Issue Date: April 19, 2004
Celanese's acetic acid project in Nanjing is going ahead, officials with the Chinese city say. Celanese will obtain raw material carbon monoxide from the BOC group and methanol from Wison, a company about which little is known other than it is from Hong Kong. Xie Chong Xiu, vice director of the Nanjing Chemical Industry Park, says her organization assisted Celanese in securing the raw materials. Celanese's wholly owned 600,000-metric-ton-per-year plant has faced opposition from state-run Sinopec, the owner of most of Nanjing's petrochemical industry. Prospects for implementation of the Celanese project became even murkier when BP and Sinopec announced in February that they also planned to build an acetic acid plant in Nanjing (C&EN, March 8, page 15). Noting that several purified terephthalic acid (PTA) projects have been announced recently, Xie says there will be enough demand in and around Nanjing to absorb the output of two acetic acid plants. Acetic acid is used to make PTA. At present, work on Celanese's proposed facilities has yet to go into full swing. A visit to the site showed that there were only a few workers and no machinery. But Celanese expects the plant to go onstream in late 2005 or in 2006.
Sigma-Aldrich has acquired Ultrafine, a pharmaceutical chemistry services company based in Manchester, England. Ultrafine employs about 80 people, including 45 chemists, and had sales last year of close to $15 million. Frank Wicks, president of Sigma-Aldrich Fine Chemicals, says Ultrafine's skills in medicinal chemistry and preclinical and early clinical production mesh well with his company's capabilities in process development and scale-up to commercial production. Sigma-Aldrich already operates pharmaceutical chemical plants in the U.K., the U.S., and Switzerland.
Two state initiatives have set aside funds to boost life sciences ventures. In the first, Indiana state pensions, industry partners, and universities have committed $73 million to a "fund of funds." The Indiana Future Fund will invest a portion of the money in four venture-capital groups--including life sciences merchant bank Burrill & Co.--that will seek out the most promising Indiana start-ups. Separately, the Chicago Illinois Technology Enterprise Center says it will provide funding to four life sciences companies: Genomics USA, Immune Cell Therapy, Lambda Vision, and DermAegis. The Chicago ITEC is part of a statewide network of entrepreneurial development centers.
SciQuest, a developer of supplier relationship management and e-procurement software for life sciences companies and higher education institutions, has agreed to be purchased and taken private by Trinity Ventures for about $25 million, roughly 50% more than its stock was worth before the deal was announced. SciQuest, currently traded on NASDAQ, would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Trinity. Stephen J. Wiehe, SciQuest CEO, says the company will have more flexibility to pursue product development and growth as a private company.
Albemarle is creating three "virtual" technology centers to help position the company in emerging scientific fields. The centers are in bromine and bromination technology, nanotechnology, and process safety technology. John M. Seitz, Albemarle's senior vice president of business operations, says the centers will add a longer range dimension to the firm's new product development capability and deepen its technology acquisition capability.
Huntsman Corp. is beginning work this month toward restarting its 400 million-lb-per-year ethylene cracker in Port Neches, Texas, which has been idle since early 2001 because of poor market conditions. James Huntsman, vice president of petrochemicals, says restarting the unit now makes economic sense for meeting contractual ethylene-supply obligations. "The ethylene market is showing signs of tightening," he says. "We have, in the past, been able to secure long-term supply agreements at acceptable economics. That option is no longer available." The cracker is expected back onstream in the third quarter.
In an effort to expand its research organization and boost its product portfolio, generic drugmaker Pharmaceutical Resources will acquire Kali Laboratories, a generic drug R&D company in Somerset, N.J., for approximately $135 million. Kali employs 55 researchers and operates a 45,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility; it has 14 generic products filed with FDA and awaiting regulatory review and another 25 in development. Pharmaceutical Resources, which owns Par Pharmaceutical, says the acquisition will lead to the introduction of at least 36 new products by the end of 2005, a 50% increase in its portfolio.
Dow Chemical is moving three pharmaceutical technology areas from its "growth platform" to its Dowpharma unit, which serves the drug industry. Dow's ChelaMed radiopharmaceutical services, BioAqueous solubilization services, and plant-derived biopharmaceutical units will join existing Dowpharma services such as chiral products synthesis, oligonucleotide manufacturing, and microbial-based biopharmaceutical production. The shift adds "modestly" to Dowpharma's roughly 500 employees.
Kemira is looking for a new owner for its fine chemicals business. The Finnish firm says its goal is to "find a solution by which ongoing development and future growth can be continued for the fine chemicals business." Kemira Fine Chemicals operates a plant in Kokkola, Finland, that manufactures products for agricultural and pharmaceutical uses. The business employs about 140 people and had sales last year of some $56 million.
Wacker is advancing work at the half-billion-dollar silicones facility it is building in Nünchritz, Germany. The company recently took delivery of components for a fluidized-bed reactor that will be used to react silicon and methyl chloride. The resulting dimethyldichlorosilane will be hydrolyzed into siloxane, the key monomer for silicones production. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2005.
Sumitomo Mitsubishi Silicon will spend $280 million to double its 12-inch silicon wafer production to 300,000 units per month by mid-2005. Sumitomo Mitsubishi was formed in February 2002 when Sumitomo Metal Industries and Mitsubishi Materials merged their silicon operations. Shin-Etsu Handotai said earlier that it will be able to produce 300,000 12-inch wafers per month by the end of this year (C&EN, March 15, page 12).
French officials are making conflicting statements about the government's view of rival bids for France-based Aventis by France's Sanofi-Synthélabo and Switzerland's Novartis. French Industry Minister Patrick Devedjian said recently that the government should stay neutral on the subject. However, Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy declared earlier in the month that the government should back the formation of a large French drugmaker. Novartis is Aventis' preferred suitor, but Novartis has said it would begin merger talks only if it received assurance that the government would stay out of the battle.
U.S. chemical exports increased in February from the prior month and soared when compared with February 2003, but imports rose more, according to data from the Federal Reserve Board. The government reports that the value of chemical exports in February increased 4.1% from January to $8.16 billion. Meanwhile, imports more than doubled that growth, rising 10.4% to $8.97 billion. February exports were up 17.3% from the same month last year, while imports increased a slightly greater 18.5%. The result was an $805 million trade deficit in February, compared with the $280 million deficit in January and the $612 million deficit in February of last year.
Dow Chemical and Kuwait's Petrochemical Industries have contracted with Technip for engineering services for their second joint-venture petrochemicals complex in Kuwait. Technip will build the cracking furnaces and recovery section of the new ethylene plant that will be at the heart of the Olefins-2 Petrochemicals Complex. The plant will be designed using ethylene technology from Technip Claremont in California.
- Norak Biosciences and Scynexis have agreed to collaborate on the development of novel drug compounds. Scynexis will produce high-purity compound libraries and use its lead optimization technology to identify clinical candidates based on Norak-developed ligands that regulate G-protein-coupled receptors.
- Nanotechnologies Inc. will merge with Technanogy Materials Development. The two firms say the combined organization will more effectively commercialize nano-aluminum across multiple markets.
- Midwest BioResearch has been formed in Evanston, Ill., by former Pfizer managers. The firm is a contract research organization providing outsourced drug disposition and toxicology services to drug and biotech companies.
- Sugar chemistry firm zuChem has raised more than $500,000 in a second round of Series A financing. The company says participants include Biotechnology Research & Development Corp. and Arch Development Partners.
- Australia's Chirogen and Scottish technology services firm Essential Science will work to bring Chirogen's chiral chemistry technology to Europe. The technology uses free-radical chemistry to facilitate asymmetric compound synthesis.
- 3M is ending production of trifluoromethane sulfonic acid, or triflic acid. The company cites declining demand and financial considerations for the decision. Remaining producers are Rhodia and Japan's Central Glass.
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