Gazprom looks to UK 

Russian joint-stock company Gazprom’s chief executive Alexander Medvedev has announced ambitious plans to supply 20 per cent of the UK’s gas by 2015. One way to do this would be to buy an existing supplier, such as Scottish Power, he hinted in an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian

Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, was reported to have cut gas supplies to Hungary, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy and Austria during a particularly cold spell in Russia in mid-January. 

These reports follow a dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine at the start of 2006, when Ukrainian national oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy refused to pay a 450 per cent Gazprom price increase, and Gazprom cut gas supplies to the region.  

Russia supplies 25 per cent of Europe’s gas, 80 per cent of which goes through pipelines crossing Ukraine. The dispute was settled on 4 January, when Naftogaz Ukrainy agreed to an increase to $95 per 1000 cubic metres for five years from $50 per 1000 cubic metres in what some reports called a ’face saving exercise’ for Gazprom. 

Vaccine pipeline speeds up  

Cambridge Biostability, UK, has installed the world’s first commercial spray drier for vaccines. This will dramatically speed up the vaccine making process and will allow production to be more linked to demand.  

The £1 million investment will be installed at Nova Laboratories, Leicester. The new facilities will become operational in March and in full production by September 2006.  

Spray drying is much faster than freeze drying, and added to the company’s vaccine-stabilising technique, will reduce the need for vaccines to be refrigerated. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly half of all global vaccines are wasted partly due to suspected or real temperature damage. 

With this technology vaccines are mixed in a fluid of glass forming compounds and spray-dried to form microscopic spheres. The dry vaccine is suspended in an approved inert liquid ready for injection, after which bodily fluids reactivate the vaccine. 

Serono takeover rumours  

GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are both rumoured to be preparing bids to buy biotech company Serono, worth $13 billion (£7 billion).  

Swiss-based Serono produces leading multiple sclerosis (MS) drug Rebif. A Swiss financial analyst was reported as saying Novartis is more likely to continue developing its own MS drug than buy Serono, and representatives from all three companies declined to comment, according to reports. 

The rumours follow a decision by Serono in December 2005 to hire investment bank Goldman Sachs to explore strategic alternatives. 

Flu vaccine plant opens in UK  

Maryland, US-based MedImmune, has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for its newly constructed influenza vaccine manufacturing plant at Speke, north west England.  

The new facility will allow MedImmune to produce up to 15 million bulk doses per month of FluMist, its trivalent intranasal influenza vaccine. This is equivalent to approximately 90 million bulk doses per influenza manufacturing season.  

The new facility is 10 times larger than the existing plant at Speke. It has larger testing and storage facilities, as well as automated inoculation capabilities. Manufacturing is due to commence later this year.  

MedImmune is also investigating a next-generation influenza vaccine, known as CAIV-T (cold adapted influenza vaccine, trivalent). The company hopes the facility could also be used to produce vaccine year round in the event of an influenza pandemic. 

Bird flu treatment fast tracked  

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, US, announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted ’fast track’ designation for peramivir injection for treating influenza infections, including highly virulent, life-threatening strains of influenza and avian influenza.  

On 22 December 2005, BioCryst announced that the FDA had given the company approval to begin human clinical trials using injectable peramivir.  

Investment in China continues  

The board of China National Offshore Oil Company and Shell Petrochemicals Company (CSPC) has announced that construction of its world scale petrochemicals complex in Daya Bay, China, has finished. The project attracted the largest capital investment for a Sino-foreign joint venture project in China. Final preparations for start up are now being made at the complex, at the centre of which is an 800,000 tonnes per annum capacity lower olefins plant.  

Shell claims the Daya Bay project is fundamental to its strategic objective to grow a significant presence in China, where demand for plastics and packaging is expected to make up 30 per cent of world consumption by 2010. 

Qinetiq to float  

The UK government has announced plans to float defence research agency Qinetiq on the London Stock Exchange for £1.1 billion. Qinetiq is owned by the Ministry of Defence and US private equity company Carlyle Group. All employees will receive a £500 share allocation. The news sparked conflict of interest accusations when it was revealed that an independent non-executive director of Qinetiq is also on the board of directors of Credit Suisse, the bank which is jointly running the initial public offering. 

Nuclear clean-up deal  

Amec, the engineering services company, has teamed up with the UK Atomic Energy Authority and US company CH2M Hill, to bid for the UK’s £56 billion (£2 billion a year) nuclear clean-up market. The alliance follows the UK government’s decision to open the nuclear decommissioning market to competition.  

The alliance will initially target selected sites among the UK’s 20 civil nuclear sites, which are now being opened to competition by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.  

Beyond this market, the partners expect to explore other international opportunities in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. 

Synexis spin off  

Synexis Europe will now be called Selcia following a spin off from US drug-discovery company Synexis. 

Synexis’ wholly-owned subsidiary, Synexis Europe, has been sold to its UK management in Ongar. 

’We are pleased to have this opportunity to develop our business as the only dedicated provider of custom radiolabelling, chemistry and analytics services to a worldwide customer base,’ said Hans Fliri, managing director of Selcia. 

Synexis chief executive Yves Ribeill says the move will allow his company to concentrate on its core business and partners as well as provide Selcia the opportunity to focus on its services. 

De Novo collaboration  

Cambridge, UK-based De Novo pharmaceuticals, a computionally-based drug discovery company focused on small molecule therapeutics, has entered into a drug discovery collaboration with US biotech giant Genzyme. 

De Novo will apply its molecular structure generating technology to focus on a disease target selected by Genzyme. 

The core platform at De Novo is a suite of structure generating programs called SkelGen, which was co-developed with Roche. 

Who wants to be a millionaire?  

Chemistry ranks high in a survey of academic super-earners who have made millions from their UK entrepreneurial spin-off ventures. 

A short-list of 12, compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement, includes Richard Friend, founder of Cambridge Display Technology (Chemistry World, April 2005, p42); Tom Blundell, founder of Astex (July 2004, p46); and Graham Richards, chair of chemistry at Oxford (January 2004, p8). 

A list of more than 60 highly successful entrepreneurs from which the shortlist was taken includes former RSC president Steven Ley, and David Haddleton, 2004 Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year (March 2005, p38). 

’We are not in it for the money,’ Graham Richards told the THES, ’Almost all academics who make money could leave academe and make more. Most have kept the day job, which means no time off and no reduction of normal teaching duties.’ 

The survey’s compilers say academics who have made a fortune are just as likely to be engineers, chemists, or physicists as molecular biologists. About half the scientists identified in the list come from the physical sciences.