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Business Concentrates

December 19, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 51

Roche grants first Tamiflu license

Roche has granted a sublicense to Shanghai Pharmaceutical, a state-owned company that is part of China Worldbest Group, to produce the antiviral Tamiflu in the event of an avian flu pandemic. Roche says it will also proceed with detailed negotiations with 12 other companies that may play an unspecified role in improving the availability of Tamiflu. But the Swiss company insists that it remains best able to supply global demand since its current capacity of 300 million treatments per year allows it to provide more than the orders it has received for 2006. "As yet we have not identified anyone who could significantly speed up the agreed delivery timelines for the first half of 2006, but we have been able to identify partners to ensure against breakdowns in supply and partners to broaden geographic coverage," says William M. Burns, head of Roche's pharmaceutical division. Other companies that are attempting to produce Tamiflu have faced difficulties in sourcing the key raw material, shikimic acid, which is extracted from Chinese star anis and is in short supply. Roche has a process to obtain shikimic acid by fermentation that it has transferred to some of its subcontractors, but two-thirds of its shikimic acid still comes from extraction, the firm says.

Fate Weighed
Credit: Celanese photo
Celanese is considering its options for this Pampa, Texas, plant.
Credit: Celanese photo
Celanese is considering its options for this Pampa, Texas, plant.

Celanese ups China presence

Celanese plans to build a 300,000-metric-ton-per-year vinyl acetate plant at its Nanjing, China, site. The plant will start up in late 2007 or early 2008 and will draw raw material from an adjacent Celanese acetic acid plant slated to open in early 2007. The site will eventually also house a vinyl acetate ethylene emulsions unit that the firm announced in July. Separately, Celanese says it will pursue "strategic alternatives" for its Pampa, Texas, site, which includes a 290,000-metric-ton acetic acid plant. The site faces competitive pressures due to its butane-based technology. Also, Celanese says it is ending talks to develop an acetyls project in Saudi Arabia with Tasnee Petrochemicals. The project was started by Acetex, which Celanese acquired earlier this year.

REACH moves in Europe

In one more milestone toward implementation of REACH, the Council of the European Union-the decision-making branch of the EU-has unanimously adopted a version of the chemicals management policy. REACH is now expected to be approved in May 2006 under the Austrian presidency of the EU. It will then be returned to the European Parliament for a second reading with passage expected by fall 2006. It will go into force in spring 2007. European legislators expect it to take about a year for a new chemicals agency to get going, so REACH is expected to actually become operational from 2008 onward.

Second Synsil plant slated

Minerals Technologies plans to build a second plant to produce Synsil, a proprietary silica- and lime-based material used to make glass. The 200,000-ton-per-year plant will be built in Cleburne, Texas, and should be up and running by the end of next year. Minerals Technologies announced in March that it would build its first commercial-scale Synsil plant in Woodville, Ohio.

Degussa forms display pact ...

Degussa and Taiwanese company Forhouse have agreed to launch a 51-49 venture to supply polymethyl methacrylate molding compounds to the flat-panel display industry. The two will build a 40,000-metric-ton-per-year plant in Taichung, Taiwan, scheduled to open in late 2006. The material will be used in a Forhouse plant making backlight units for thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal displays.

... eyes printed electronics

Degussa and the Karlsruhe Research Center, in Germany, are each putting up about $1.2 million as part of a 30-month research collaboration in printable electronics. "We are seeking to combine the good printing capabilities of organic materials with the outstanding electrical properties of inorganic semiconductors," says Roland Schmechel, head of a new working group at Karlsruhe's Institute for Nanotechnology.

New chairmen at Dow and Dow Corning

Both Dow Chemical and Dow Corning have elevated their CEOs to the additional position of chairman of the board. At Dow, President and CEO Andrew N. Liveris will succeed William S. Stavropoulos, who will retire on April 1, 2006. At Dow Corning, President and CEO Stephanie A. Burns assumes the additional role of chairman upon the Jan. 1, 2006, retirement of Gary E. Anderson, the current chairman.

Dow drops Brazil project

Dow Chemical says it is no longer taking part in a study to build an acrylic acid plant in Brazil with state oil company Petrobras and local company Elekeiroz. Plans call for a $360 million plant to be situated near an oil refinery in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. This isn't the first time companies have kicked around a venture to build Brazil's first acrylic acid plant. BASF and Petrobras shelved plans for an acrylic joint venture in 2003.

DuPont to build in Singapore

DuPont will build plants for its Zytel HTN high-performance nylon and its Vespel parts and shapes in Singapore. The HTN plant will have a capacity of 15,000 metric tons annually, doubling DuPont's capacity for the product, and is expected to come onstream in 2009. The company completed an HTN plant in Richmond, Va., earlier this year and says the high-temperature, easily processed nylon is enjoying rapid growth. The Vespel plant, which will make parts and shapes such as seal rings, is expected to open in 2007.

Toray expands carbon fiber

Toray Industries will spend $70 million to boost carbon fiber capacity at its Abidos, France, plant by 800 metric tons to 3,600 metric tons per year. The expansion, to be completed in 2007, will bring Toray's global carbon fiber capacity to nearly 14,000 metric tons. Toray supplies carbon fiber to both Airbus and Boeing, and it won the contract to supply the material for use in Boeing's new 787 airliner.

GSK, Vertex in drug pact

GlaxoSmithKline and Vertex Pharmaceuticals have agreed to develop and commercialize Vertex's VX-490, a subtype-selective sodium channel modulator for the treatment of pain that targets specific pain signals in nerve cells. GSK will have exclusive rights to VX-490 and associated small molecules worldwide. Vertex will receive $20 million up front and could receive up to an additional $385 million in development and sales threshold payments as well as royalties.

Alnylam gets U.S. funds for flu therapy

Alnylam has received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a pandemic flu therapy based on RNAi, a technology that "silences" inappropriate gene activity with chemically synthesized double-stranded RNAs. The firm also signed a flu drug production deal with Dowpharma, the contract-manufacturing arm of Dow Chemical. Alnylam says it plans to file an Investigational New Drug Application for an RNAi flu therapy by the end of next year.

IP2IPO buysinto catalysts

IP2IPO has invested just over $700,000 to take a 42.7% stake in Oxford Catalysts Ltd., a spin-off company from the University of Oxford's chemistry department. OCL develops catalyst technology for petrochemicals and petroleum refining, for the fuel-cell industry, and for waste-gas processing. The company's technology is based on science developed over 18 years at Oxford by Tiancun Xiao and Malcolm Green.

Solvay acquires Indian polymers

Solvay has agreed to acquire the specialty polymers business of India's Gharda Chemicals. The business, which operates an R&D center and plant in Panoli, Gujarat state, has sales of more than $10 million per year. Solvay plans to fold the acquisition into Solvay Advanced Polymers and to expand polyether ether ketone production at the Panoli site.

Amgen to buy Abgenix for $2.2 billion

Amgen has agreed to acquire Abgenix, a developer of human therapeutic antibodies, for about $2.2 billion in cash plus the assumption of debt. When Amgen acquired Immunex in 2002, it inherited a codevelopment agreement with Abgenix on the antibody panitumumab, which is being developed to treat metastatic colorectal cancer. According to Amgen, buying Abgenix will provide full ownership of the product and eliminate a royalty it would have had to pay on a second product, denosumab, made with Abgenix technology. Amgen believes panitumumab could have annual sales of $2 billion or more at its peak.

October chemical imports surge

U.S imports of chemicals soared in October, according to Commerce Department data, while export performance was lackluster, causing a huge increase in the chemical trade deficit. Imports of chemicals rose 11.3% from the previous month and 23.5% from October 2004 to $11.2 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. exported $9.82 billion worth of chemicals in October, up just 0.3% from the prior month, and down 1.5% from October of last year. The chemical trade deficit jumped to $1.42 billion in October, compared with $306 million in September. In October 2004, the U.S. recorded a trade surplus in chemicals of $861 million.


◾ The European Commission has approved Ineos' $9 billion purchase of BP's Innovene petrochemicals operations. Separately, it has opened an in-depth investigation of Cargill's purchase of Degussa's food ingredients business over possible competition problems in lecithin.

Sasol will build a 30,000-metric-ton-per-year methyl isobutyl ketone plant at its Sasolburg, South Africa, site. The plant will open early in 2008, Sasol says, and double its capacity for the solvent.

Thai Petrochemical Industry has raised $935 million by selling new shares to strategic investors. Thai oil refiner and petrochemical producer PTT bought 6.1 billion of the 7.8 billion shares in the bankrupt firm.

Inamed and Medicis Pharmaceutical have signed a merger termination agreement allowing Inamed to be purchased by Allergan for $3.2 billion. Medicis, which had offered $2.8 billion for Inamed, will receive a $90 million termination fee.

H.B. Fuller has signed a 10-year contract under which Accenture will provide the company with systems management and development services.

BASF will cease production of vitamin C in Grenaa, Denmark, at the end of the year. The site has annual capacity of 4,000 metric tons and is no longer competitive, BASF says, because of its small size and the continuous decline in prices for vitamin C worldwide.

Lanxess is scaling back polybutadiene rubber operations in Orange, Texas, by reducing the number of lines at the site from four to three. Bayer, Lanxess' predecessor company, closed polybutadiene rubber production in Sarnia, Ontario, in 2002.


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