Bayer bids to take over Monsanto

Today, chemical giant Bayer put in a $62bn (£43bn) bid to take over agrochemical company Monsanto, a move which would see the formation of the world’s biggest agricultural supplier.

This would be the biggest ever takeover bid made by a German company, as the country tends towards lower risk expansions, and the offer has caused controversy among Bayer investors. Concerns have arisen because this would mean Bayer’s main interest would be in the agricultural sector, with many investors joining the company because of their pharmaceutical products.

Monsanto itself tried to take over rival company Syngenta last year, but had their offer rejected, and announced plans to cut 3,600 jobs in the aftermath. It’s unclear at the moment how this new merger will affect staff at the company, but many will be hoping the job cuts will be cancelled as Bayer take over.

Whatever the outcome, this and the upcoming merger of Syngenta and ChemChina which is yet to go through, will no doubt have a huge impact on the agrochemical industry in the upcoming years. With big pharma taking a tumble and small and SMEs coming into their own in recent years, the formation of huge chemical companies may prove a risky move. Time will tell.

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Toxicity is a hazardous waste

Today I came across an opinion article in Chemistry World which highlights what I believe is a very important issue – chemists today are not being properly trained and prepared in reducing toxicity in their methods.

Now, this isn’t only an issue for the green chemists out there – as chemistry undergraduates and postgraduates we’re often completely unaware of how significant the toxicity of solvents, reagents and products are further down the development pipeline of a new material. We’re simply overjoyed if we manage to make the product we’ve been working on for months, and we’re thrilled if it exhibits the properties we’ve been hoping for, such as cancer killing activity. Never do we step back and consider the carcinogenic chloroform we carried out a work-up with, or the explosive starting materials which couldn’t possibly be used on an industrial scale.

And, why would we? I personally only remember the reduction of toxicity being mentioned in specific green/environmental chemistry modules I chose as an undergraduate, which often leads students to only considering these issues in this context. It’s a green chemistry issue, not one to think about in every day synthetic laboratory work, right? I have come across some of these issues in my PhD, as its industrially funded, so I have some appreciation of what solvents might not be desirable/scaleable, but this has only been mentioned in passing, and I’ve had no formal training in this area.

It’s a common problem throughout chemistry degrees/PhDs, which his highlighted throughout this article. Newly trained chemists give very little thought to the toxicity issues of their work and, crucially, it isn’t instilled in them by their professors or supervisors that they should be. Indeed, many supervisors are more interested in results which they can publish than whether or not their methodology would be commercially viable. However, when these students venture out of academia into the world of industry, this is something they’ll very much have to be aware of, and this knowledge would be extremely useful if taught beforehand.

Unless we want to hide in academia forever, it’s about time we opened our eyes to how our chemistry might affect the real world, and whether the work we’re carrying out would be remotely industrially viable. If we came together with engineers, process chemists and industrial chemists, we could all save ourselves valuable time, energy and resources by knowing what our final goals really are.

Of course, chemistry for the sake of chemistry is still something I advocate – we always need to learn more about the world around us – but, if we’re going to have a grand goal for our research, we need to take a step back and no our limits right from the beginning. Only then, will we reach a conclusion everyone can benefit from.

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Companies on Campus

This interesting article on the Nature News which explores the idea of academia and industry being brought together under the same roof.

Anyone working in research will have noticed that academia and the chemical industry have been coming closer and closer together in recent years. Many of my fellow PhD students at Nottingham are at least partly funded by a chemical company, and there are more and more seminars and events being centered around forging links with industry. With academic careers becoming increasingly difficult to land, and long-term funding being like gold dust, careers in industrial research are becoming more appealing to PhD graduates and post docs.

Companies often want to enlist leading academics in order to provide themselves with expertise that they just don’t have access to, and will gladly forge relationships with universities in order to improve their research. Chemistry departments have in turn have developed their own business partnership units in order to establish strong links with industry that benefit both parties.

This article suggests pushing this even further – moving industry into universities so that both parties are within easy reach of each other. A whole raft of benefits is possible – with everyone in such close proximity, academics and industrial researchers alike can bounce ideas off of each other, give students a broader experience of chemistry and work together towards an end goal of creating something which can benefit the world.

Of course, there are many factors which must be considered with such ideas – intellectual property ownership, funding sources, integration into education, etc. – but it is a very interesting idea, and many institutions may want to consider it in the future.

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AstraZeneca – up for sale?

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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.

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Tid Bit: Rubber Research is Bouncing Back!

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Today I came across an interesting and in-depth article on Science News online outlining the plight of the rubber industry and what scientists are doing to tackle it.

The lack of sustainability in the rubber industry is unknown to the public at large, and it seems that most people are unaware of how finite our supplies of this resource are. Currently, rubber is sourced from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, which is only grown to a commercial scale in a few countries, or from petroleum sources, which are growing more and more limited. Furthermore, rubber trees tend to be grown in countries where political action can lead to supplies being endangered.

This article, written by Cristy Gelling, goes into tremendous detail about the formation of rubber, the history of its production and what technologies are being implemented to tackle the squeeze on this vital product, including using renewable resources such as dandelions.

If you’re curious about how research is moving forward in this significant industrial area of chemistry, take a look!

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Green Chemistry – A Fruitful Career Path?

Following on from my Featured Journal segment last week, an article in Nature Careers this week discusses how moving into the green chemistry area can be a prosperous career move.

The article explains how additional training in areas of green chemistry can really add to the skill set of a chemistry graduate, and this ever-expanding area of chemistry is an area which many companies are keen to get involved with.

Green chemistry can be incorporated into all almost all areas of the chemical sciences, by taking into account the life cycle of the processes involved, and the impact each chemical and waste has on the environment.

An intriguing aspect of green chemistry is that the process must not only be environmentally-friendly, but be more efficient than and just as cost-effective as what is currently carried out in industry. This is the great challenge which most green chemists battle against, and why, if their research proves fruitful, they may hit the research jackpot by following this path.

Green chemists aren’t asked for specifically by chemical companies, but applicants with a knowledge of safer and more efficient processes are very valuable.

This article goes into great depth about the benefits of green chemistry to industry, and to your career if you choose to follow a path which incorporates green chemistry into your training. In a world where traditional chemical sources are dwindling and the need for safer and environmentally-friendly processes is greater than ever before, it’s never been a better time to learn more about green chemistry.

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