Monsanto wins latest round in biotech patent dispute
Monsanto says it wonan eight-year dispute with Dow AgroSciences over ownership of a biotechnology patent for protecting crops against insect damage. The patent decision confirms an earlier court tussle over rights to the technology in which Monsanto also prevailed. In a 200-page ruling, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office says Monsanto was the first company to invent the technology to insert the Bacillus thuringiensis gene into crops such as corn and cotton. Dow says it may appeal the decision. Bt is a natural bacterium present in soil. The presence of a Bt gene producing an insecticidal protein in crops reduces the need for insecticide applications. According to financial analyst Frank J. Mitsch of Fulcrum Global Partners, the decision clears up the ownership of the technology once and for all but is unlikely to give Monsanto a financial boost. Dow already pays Monsanto a license fee for the use of the Bt technology, he says.
Calgon Carbon buys Waterlink
With a bid of $35.2 million plus the assumption of liabilities, Calgon Carbon was the highest bidder for Waterlink Specialty Products. Acceptance of the bid is subject to the approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Waterlink provides equipment, systems, and services related to the use of activated carbon for water and air purification, solvent recovery, odor control, and chemical processing. Known as Barnebey Sutcliffe in the U.S. and Sutcliffe Speakman in the U.K., Waterlink employs 250 people at 12 sites and had sales of $67 million in 2003.
Bayer improves electrolysis
Bayer and several partners have commercialized a new process for the electrolytic conversion back to chlorine of hydrochloric acid that is produced during the reaction of chlorine with organic compounds. The process, which Bayer calls oxygen depolarized cathode technology, introduces oxygen into the electrolytic cell, generating water at the cathode instead of hydrogen. Fritz Gestermann, head of electrolysis process development at Bayer MaterialScience, says the cell requires some 30% less electricity than conventional diaphragm cells.
Codexis will double the size of its bioprocess facility in Redwood City, Calif., by building a new scale-up and product launch center. The company, a provider of biocatalysts and fermentation processes, says the multimillion-dollar investment will add 6,000 sq ft of process development laboratories, including a 650-L fermentation unit. The center is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of this year, according to John Grate, vice president of R&D.
BIO's Feldbaum will retire
Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, will retire at the end of 2004. Feldbaum, 60, says that after 30 years in Washington, D.C.--11 of them as the head of BIO--he will be moving to Idaho with his wife, Laura. Richard F. Pops, CEO of biotech company Alkermes and chairman of BIO, calls Feldbaum "one of the pioneers of the biotechnology industry."
Researchers at DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International unit have identified the gum-producing gene in guar and carob plants and have successfully transferred the gene to soybean plants. "The goal was to identify and isolate the molecular components for producing galactomannan--the gum in the seeds of guar and carob plants--and to determine if it could be produced in soybeans and other commercial crops," says Kanwarpal S. Dhugga, the biochemist who led the research team. The gums used as a food additive, are made by the action of two enzymes--one that makes the mannan backbone and another that adds galactose sugar to it.
Cabot has formed a joint venture with Bluestar New Chemical Materials Co. to manufacture fumed silica near Nanchang, Jiangxi province, in southeast China. The joint venture, called Cabot Bluestar Chemical Co., will invest $30 million to build what Cabot calls China's first world-class fumed silica facility. Construction will begin in spring 2004, with completion in late 2005. Cabot will own 90% of the joint venture and Bluestar, the other 10%. Degussa is building a fumed silica plant in Thailand, and a Dow Corning/Wacker-Chemie venture is planning one in Asia (C&EN, June 2, 2003, page 14).
Geo Specialty Chemicals did not make the interest payment that was due Feb. 2 on its 10 1/8% senior subordinated notes. This failure starts a 30-day grace period in which the Cleveland-based company will have to make the payment or be in default under its various financing agreements. CEO George P. Ahearn says Geo will continue to operate with its existing cash resources and cash flow from operations while it negotiates with its equity sources, banks, and other stakeholders and explores strategic options.
DSM's integration of Roche's vitamins business, acquired in September 2003, will mean the loss of about 420 more jobs. The cuts, to occur at a former Roche plant and offices in Switzerland, are aimed at maximizing synergies with DSM's own operations. Although jobs are disappearing at the Sisseln plant, investment is planned as well, including a new vitamin E unit to open later this year. In December, DSM announced 290 vitamins job cuts in Germany (C&EN, Jan. 5, page 14).
China will merge dozens of rare-earth producers into two conglomerates this year. One group, to be named China Southern Rare Earth, will unite companies based in the provinces of Jiangsu, Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Hunan, as well as Shanghai. Another group, to be named China Northern Rare Earth, will be an umbrella for firms in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Shandong, and Sichuan. China, the world's largest supplier of rare earths, is home to more than 130 producers.
Following completion of a pipeline prioritization review, vaccines maker Acambis has decided to close its research operation in Cambridge, England, and consolidate R&D activities in Cambridge, Mass. The company expects the shift to result in the loss of 40 jobs, leaving it with around 280 worldwide. Through the review, Acambis identified nine vaccine projects it will continue to support and three it will drop.
U.S. chemical shipments increased in December 2003, both from the previous month and from December 2002, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Commerce Department. The value of chemical shipments rose 0.8% from November and 8.7% from the last month in 2002 to $39.6 billion. Inventories declined by 0.7% from November to $52.8 billion, but were up 3.5% from December of the year before. The inventories-to-shipments ratio fell to 1.33 from 1.35 in November and from 1.40 a year earlier. For the full year, the value of chemical shipments rose 8.3% to $459.3 billion.
Idemitsu Kosan, its subsidiary Idemitsu Petrochemical, and Mitsui Chemicals will study ways to cooperate at the Chiba, Japan, chemical complex where they all operate. The companies say Idemitsu, which is primarily an oil refiner, will attempt to get more value out of its hydrocarbons through cooperation with Mitsui. Conversely, Mitsui will seek ways to diversify the feedstocks it can use in its plants. Idemitsu Kosan operates a refinery in Chiba while Idemitsu Petrochemical and Mitsui both run ethylene crackers there.
Clariant will eliminate about 500 of the 1,300 jobs at its Colour-Chem subsidiary in Thane, India, as part of an efficiency program aimed at concentrating the majority of production at a single site. Colour-Chem will move large parts of production from Thane to Roha, where about 60 new jobs will be created.
Firestop Chemicals, a British flame-retardants specialist, has contracted production of its new nonbrominated flame retardant, Noflan, to the Russian chemical company Vocco. First commercial delivery to the U.K. is planned for April from Vocco's Volgograd facility. Part of the funding for the venture comes from the Moscow-based International Science & Technology Center, whose mandate is to assist Russian companies during the transition to a market-driven economy. The original formulation for the flame retardant was developed at Moscow's Semenov Institute, according to Peter Flanagan, commercial director at Firestop.
Sumitomo Chemical and Cambridge Display Technologies are setting up a joint research team of 20 scientists, based in Japan and the U.K., that will develop new materials for use in organic light-emitting displays. The two companies will focus on processable, phosphorescent materials such as dendrimers. Sumitomo already licenses Cambridge's technology and is a shareholder in the British company.
Pharmacopeia will provide small-molecule drug discovery expertise to Germany's Altana Pharma and Japan's Taiho Pharmaceutical. In both deals, Pharmacopeia will receive funding and be entitled to milestone and royalty payments if drugs are commercialized.
DuPont has increased its stake in two Chinese automotive coatings ventures. Its stake in the DuPont Red Lion venture in Beijing has increased to 76% from 60%, and its stake in the DuPont Red Lion venture in Changchun has increased to 100% from 60%.
Dow Chemical has completed its $170 million acquisition of Celanese's acrylates business. With the purchase, Dow gets Celanese's Clear Lake, Texas, acrylates plant and the firm's product line, including intellectual property, inventory, and technology.
Chemir Analytical Services has acquired PRA Laboratories, a Ypsilanti, Mich., provider of R&D support to the paints and coatings industry. St. Louis-based Chemir says the acquisition is its third in the past seven months.