Pfizer’s AstraZeneca bid: bitter pill or welcome tonic? – opinion – 30 April 2014 – New Scientist

Following on from my previous post, here Sarah Main from New Scientist asks what Pfizer’s takeover bid of Astrazeneca may mean for UK science.


AstraZeneca – up for sale?


In the news today is the announcement that UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been approached by chemical giant Pfizer, who are offering billions of dollars for a merger with them.

Share prices for the company have soared since the news broke earlier today and, if the sale goes through, it will be the biggest ever takeover of a UK business by a foreign company.

AZ is one of Britain’s most important companies, selling £7bn of pharmaceuticals overseas every year. Even after site closures in recent years, the company still employs 7000 people. Pfizer haven’t directly stated that there won’t be job losses if a takeover goes ahead,  but they did say ‘the United Kingdom has created attractive incentives for companies to manufacture products and maintain and protect intellectual property, and we have seen that capital and jobs have followed these types of incentives‘, implying that at least some jobs will be safe.

That being said, the merged company’s head offices will be based in the US, and shares will be sold on the New York stock exchange.

Up until now, AZ have rejected Pfizer’s offers, stating that they significantly undervalued their company. However, Pfizer appear confident that they can be swayed, and talks are continuing into a new deal.

If successful, Pfizer will have access to a range of medicines currently being manufactured by AZ, including anti-cancer drugs and treatments for diabetes.

The face of big pharma in Britain has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, with many chemists moving away from the sector towards small and medium-sized chemical companies for employment. Questions must be asked about whether this merger would benefit the UK chemistry community, especially since Pfizer closed their Sandwich site in 2011, causing thousands of job losses and turning many of their scientists away from this area of chemistry, or indeed from R&D altogether.

At many career evenings I’ve heard that big pharma isn’t the way to go anymore, and personally I feel a bit anxious about Pfizer taking over a company which has already had to downsize its R&D in the UK. The last thing we want to see is more jobs for chemists being lost, and less R&D opportunities being available across Britain.

It’s still early days, and Pfizer are yet to convince AZ and its shareholders that a takeover would be a good idea, so until then, we’ll have to wait and find out what will be decided.


Human Skin Grown In Lab

This article on the BBC News website explains how a team of researchers at Kings College London have been able to grow a layer of human skin in their laboratory.

Although skin has been grown in a lab before, this is the only example of such tissue which contains an epidermis – think skin’s protective outer layer. This makes it much more lifelike, and is a great step forward towards scientists being able to use such samples for testing in the future.

Lead researcher Dr Dusko Ilic states that the skin is “cheap, it is easy to scale up and it is reproducible”, and so could prove a viable alternative for animal testing of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. There’s also the possibility that it could be used to study the treatment of skin diseases such as eczema.

This new and exciting technology could prove to be revolutionary within the biomedical sciences, and will hopefully lead to even further development of such research.


Highlights from Dalton 2014


As you know, this week I attended the Royal Society of Chemistry‘s Dalton 2014 conference held at the University of Warwick. It was three days of key note lectures, shorter presentations from young researchers, a poster session and lots of food and drink. Overall, it was a great experience – the science was not only interesting but relevant and novel, and Warwick looked after us very well. The the Dalton Division’s new president, Professor David Cole-Hamilton, welcomed us all very warmly, and his enthusiasm for the conference and the division came across immediately.

The key note lectures over the 3 days covered all of the 4 sections which had come together for the conference – coordination chemistry and organometallics, main group chemistry, inorganic reaction mechanisms and bioinorganic chemistry. This gave every delegate the chance to experience something outside their immediate area of interest.

Highlighted Speakers:

Richard Layfield – University of Manchester – Reactive Metal-Carbon Bonds in Three-Coordinate Iron NHC Complexes – Winner of the Sir Edward Frankland Fellowship


If you haven’t heard of NHCs, or N-heterocyclic carbenes, where have you been for the last few years? They’ve been coming up in all areas of inorganic chemistry, and have been used to stabilise all manner of interesting and reactive compounds. Dr Richard Layfield has been working on three-coordinate iron complexes featuring bulky NHC ligands which have been proving to have interesting structures and reactivity. I heard Richard give a talk a year ago at the Coordination Chemistry Discussion Group Meeting last July at Imperial College London, and he is still a great speaker, who conveys real enthusiasm for his work. I suggest anyone interested in this area takes a look at his research webpage for for information.

Rebecca Melen – University of Toronto – Activation of Alkynes with B(C6F5)3: Intramolecular Cyclisation Reactions and Rearrangements – Winner of the Dalton Young Researcher Award


Rebecca is another researcher I’ve heard speak before, and here she was explaining her work which led to her receiving the Dalton Young Researcher award. Being a main group chemist myself, I take a great deal of personal interest in Rebecca’s work, particularly in the area of frustrated Lewis pairs. I was impressed by the remarkable volume of work she has carried out, and found her to be an engaging and interesting speaker. She explained her research into various main group-catalysed processes, which proved to be very efficient, and could lead to the replacement of transition metal catalysts in some reactions. Having already amassed a number of publications and having received a string of awards through her academic life, Rebecca is definitely a young researcher to keep an eye on!

Kit Cummins – MIT – Group 15 Element Triple Bonds and Reactive Intermediates


This was one of the highlights for me! Professor Christopher Cummins is an excellent speaker, and his research group at MIT carry out some very interesting work utilising low-coordinate transition metal compounds to activate various important small molecules, such as N2, and to provide accessible routes to new small molecules, such as the P2 and PN. I myself remember during my undergraduate studies learning about his molybdenum-amido compound which was able to split dinitrogen, which was a remarkable discovery. Kit has continued this work into the activation of heavier group 15 molecules, with very interesting results so far. His work was fascinating, and he was an excellent speaker, providing a great deal of knowledge and detail to support his discoveries. If you’re interested in low-coordinate coordination compounds and their reactivity, I strongly suggest looking into his work. You can find his webpage here.


Other than the key note lectures, there was a plethora of shorter presentations given by PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. These were split into four parallel sessions each day, for each of the 4 interest groups which were attending. I admit I mostly went to the Main Group presentations, which proved to be interesting, engaging and to contain very high-quality science. For such a small interest group, there’s a great deal of variety and good work coming out of it, and I found myself furiously scribbling down notes throughout.

I particularly enjoyed Dr Ewan Clark, from the University of Manchester, talking about his work on frustrated Lewis Pairs, Owen Metters, from the University of Bristol, talking about the use of amine-boronium cations to synthesise polyaminoboranes, Dr Benjamin Day, from the University of Manchester, talking about the selective functionalisation of pentadienylsilanes, Rebecca Musgrave, from the University of Bristol, talking about silicon-bridges ferrocenophanes and Dr Sophia Solomon, from the University of Cambridge, talking about mesityl-phosphonium salts. However, all of the presentations were very good, and I was very pleased with the standard of talks throughout the conference.

On the first evening there was a poster session consisting of over 150 excellent posters, which gathered considerable interest from students and academics alike. I myself presented a poster on radical BODIPY anions and other main group analogues, which I thought was a bit of a different area that hadn’t been talked about elsewhere at the conference. The session was great for allowing researchers to network and learn about what other work was being carried out within the Dalton Division. Hopefully, this will pave the way for new collaborations and the sharing of information for the benefit of the progression of this area of chemistry. The posters were mostly of a very high quality, and it was encouraging to see so many PhD students getting both their names and research known in the inorganic chemistry community.


Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Dalton 2014, and I am greatly looking forward to the next one in two years!


How to make graphene in a kitchen blender : Nature News Blog

This is a great post from the Nature News magazine blog which describes how a team of researchers were able to make flakes of graphene using a high-powered kitchen blender.

With graphene being tipped to be a wonder material, simpler methods of its production are definitely needed, so ideas such as these are a great start.

Don’t try this at home, though!


Book Review: “BITE recipes for remarkable research”

Here is an interesting read for any PhD students out there who feel their research needs a bit of a boost. Exercises for improving working on your own and with your supervisor are written as recipes, making a quirky but possibly very useful book. Not all of it applies to chemistry work, but it’s had input from academics across a number of fields, so it isn’t only for arts students! The whole book is free to download, so take a peek if you’re interested.

The Thesis Whisperer

Judy Robertson is the co-editor of  the free to download academic recipe book “BITE: Recipes for  Remarkable Research” which is published by Sense this month. I was privileged to take part in this project and contribute a recipe and case study to the book.

In this post Judy explains why on earth she wanted to write a recipe book, and shares one of her favourite recipes aimed at PhD students.

glassfulOne of my favourite projects this year has been editing an academic recipe book with my co-conspirators Alison Williams and Derek Jones. It’s all about practical ways in which researchers can become more creative and produce even more remarkable research.

There are recipes for working on our own, working with others and working environments.  I enjoyed writing and editing recipes so much that I’m worried I’ll never write another academic paper again!

The writing process was unusual: the book…

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Tomorrow I will be attending Dalton 2014, a joint meeting of all of the inorganic interest groups in the Royal Society of Chemistry at the University of Warwick.

The conference looks like it’ll be very interesting, with a plethora of talks running parallel to each other on each of the three days.

I myself will be presenting a poster tomorrow evening as part of the Main Group interest group.

A range of prize-winning speakers will be attending, from the UK and overseas, such as Theodore Betley from Harvard, Kit Cummins from MIT, and our own Mike George from Nottingham.

There’s a good range of chemistry on offer, and I’ll be noting down the best of the bunch to share with you when I get back!