Budget brings UK science to the fore  

Science and technology in the UK was prioritised in the country’s annual budget announcement, which also suggests that the way science is funded though the research assessment exercise (RAE) is about to be scrapped. 

The chancellor said an extra £1 billion will be invested to support the objectives of the government’s ten-year science and innovation investment framework, as set out in 2004. 

Energy and environment-saving technologies featured prominently in the annual statement. Businesses will be hit with an increase in the climate change levy, in line with inflation, from 1 April 2007, with the aim of ’encouraging energy efficiency in the business sector’. The levy applies to electricity, coal and petroleum gas in a liquid state, but not to oil. 

A new National Institute of Energy Technologies, to focus on energy research will be developed. This will be a public private partnership, with investments from business being matched by public money, up to a certain limit. So far BP, EDF Energy, E.On and Shell have all stated their intentions to invest in the institute. 

£30 million over three years has been promised to develop microgeneration technologies, such as solar and wind power. The Department of Trade and Industry’s low carbon buildings programme has received £50 million to fund, among other things, the installation of microgeneration technologies in buildings. 

The next RAE is set for 2008. This year’s budget implies this will be the end of the system, which has come under criticism for discouraging ’blue skies’ research. The budget report states that: ’the 2008 RAE should go ahead, incorporating a shadow metrics exercise alongside the traditional panel-based peer review system. However, if an alternative system is agreed and widely supported, and a clear majority of UK universities were to favour an earlier move to a simpler system, the government would be willing to consider that.’  

CIA new chief executive

The UK’s Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has appointed Steve Elliott as its chief executive. Elliott, who has been acting director general of the CIA since January, said he was ’thrilled’ at his appointment. ’I am looking forward to working with chemical businesses to put this industry at the forefront of the UK economy,’ he said. 

Immediately before Elliott’s appointment, the CIA gave a cautious welcome to government plans for allocating allowances in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (EU ETS). The CIA is ’relieved’ that emissions allowances for manufacturing industry will be based on projected needs, after accounting for existing reduction requirements from other policies, but is concerned that the plan requires additional carbon emissions reductions from the electricity supply industry and also proposes to auction a margin of their allowances rather than allocate them for free. It is inevitable that higher indirect costs will be transmitted through the electricity market, a CIA statement concluded. In the same statement, the CIA also said it was ’unable to support the government’s stated long-term objective to move away from free allocation of EU ETS allowances under a harmonised EU framework.’ 

Europe tightens fluorinated gas restrictions

A furious row between the European parliament and the European commission has stalled plans for further restrictions on use of fluorinated gases in the European Union.

Legislation was due to be approved by the European parliament on 5 April, but the commission raised last-minute objections to provisions agreed between the parliament and EU environment ministers allowing Austria and Denmark to maintain until 2013 national laws already stricter than the proposed EU curbs. 

The commission said the agreement infringes the commission’s treaty-protected legislative powers. 

Moreover, the commission refused to say whether infringement proceedings against Austria and Denmark would be abandoned. The commission argues that the contested national laws represent barriers to free trade in goods containing fluorinated gases permitted elsewhere in Europe. 

MEPs postponed their vote, awaiting clarification as to what the commission intends to do.

Bone healing patent granted

Finnish company Inion has been granted a US patent for technology that will be used to make medical devices that speed bone growth at fracture sites. 

The patented technology will combine the company’s biodegradable polymers with bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) and certain small pyrrolidone molecules, NMPs, thought to help natural bone growth promoters.  

Inion’s OptimaPLUS implants will combine the BMP and NMP bioactive molecules in a biodegradable polymer, and it is hoped that they will work in combination to stimulate bone formation at a fracture. The company also hopes to improve delivery mechanisms for BMPs with the combined technologies.

Inion will now be looking for out-licensing opportunities with other companies in order to exploit the technology commercially.  

Millions paid by price-fixing pharma

Criminal charges have been brought against five generic drug companies in the UK. Multi-million pound compensation payments to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have been agreed by three out of the five generic drug companies accused of price fixing.

The serious fraud office issued summonses to: Kent Pharmaceuticals, Norton Healthcare, Generics UK, part of the Merck group, Ranbaxy, a subsidiary of the India-based Ranbaxy Laboratories, and the Goldshield Group. These companies are accused of ’conspiracy to defraud in relation to the pricing and supply of warfarin, the branded drug Marevan, and penicillin-based antibiotics between January 1996 and December 2000.’ 

Norton Healthcare did not admit liability but agreed a £13.5 million settlement with the NHS, which had already agreed a £12 million compensation deal with Generics UK and £4.5 million deal with Ranbaxy. 

Bayer staff go it alone

The management and staff of Bayer HealthCare’s natural substance research unit have set up an independent service company, InterMed Discovery GmbH. The company will act as a contract manufacturer for the pharmaceutical, crop protection and food industries.  

The decision follows the restructuring of Bayer HealthCare’s pharmaceutical research and the associated spin-off of anti-infectives research, which had previously been the most important internal customer for the natural substance research unit. The company will look for active ingredients and develop them into its own products. 

Ranbaxy expansion aims to infiltrate EU

Indian-based generic drug company Ranbaxy has acquired Romania’s largest independent generics company Terapia for $324 million (£182 million). Ranbaxy hopes the acquisition will help the company expand into the European Union when Romania joins in January 2007. 

Terapia has a portfolio of 157 marketing authorisations, 60 pipeline marketing authorisations, two manufacturing sites and a clinical trials facility for phase I pharmacokinetic studies.  

Ranbaxy now has ground operations in 46 countries and manufacturing operations in seven countries. 

Huntsman goes green

Huntsman corporation has formed a new strategic business unit dedicated to enhancing the company’s green chemistry initiatives. The unit will work closely with Huntsman’s advanced technology center,  

’We have been avid devotees of green chemistry for several years,’ said the company’s performance products division president, Don Stanutz.  

Current Huntsman green chemistry products include propylene carbonate based solvents that reduce toxicity in applications from agriculture to industrial cleaning agents, carbonates that reduce volatile organic compounds in paints, and non-brominated flame retardants and catalysts that eliminate emissions from insulation foams.