CPhI Lite
Oct26

CPhI Lite

CPhI Worldwide is taking place this week in Frankfurt, Germany. Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer, Senior Editor Rick Mullin, and I have been in the city since Monday to attend this annual conference on pharmaceutical ingredients held in Europe. C&EN’s formal coverage will include a news item from Thayer in the Oct. 31 issue and a review from Mullin in the Nov. 14 issue. To whet your appetite for my colleagues’ stories, here are some tidbits from my roamings and company visits in Frankfurt’s massive Messe. First stop: Evonik, where Jurgen Krauter, vice president of communications, told me how the company hopes to change its image from old industry to provocative. The latest pharma brochure, “We love your problems,” features some offbeat photos, including of someone that reminded me of Lady Gaga:   Evonik seems to be serious in thinking out of the box in its messaging. Here’s an ad on a taxi:   Next: Roquette, where Sophie Chesnoy, pharma project development and marketing manager, briefed me on the company’s advances in formulations. One technology Roquette is touting is called Kleptose, cyclodextrins that, among other uses, masks the bitterness of APIs by trapping the molecules inside the cyclodextrin helix. When a tablet is in the mouth, only the cyclodextrin contacts the taste sensors, Chesnoy explained.   On my way to my third stop, I chanced upon David Ager and Andre H.M. de Vries, of DSM. I noticed a prominent embellishment on the DSM logo, as shown in this photo of the logo embroidered on Ager’s green DSM shirt: The logo looks like a hat of multicolored feathers to me. Dave dutifully pointed out that in the middle of the colored arcs is the hexagon, an icon of organic chemistry. Dave also called my attention to the new tag line: Bright Science, Brighter Living. Sounds like they’re making light bulbs, I thought. DSM’s marketing and communications director, Guy Tiene, explained that DSM is moving away from an image of industrial, heavily petroleum-based chemistry to life sciences, and the logo aims to send the message of novelty, freshness, health, and sustainability.     My third stop was AllessaChemie, where I met Thomas Buttner, the president and CEO, and Michael Hassler, director of marketing and business development for exclusive synthesis. Both conveyed confidence in the company’s growth despite the economic unease especially in Europe.  They credit three factors for the steady course the company is now taking after the economic downturn of 2008: a good management team, a good workforce, and an owner who is not out for quick money in the next quarter. That owner is Karl-Gerhard Seifert. When he retired at...

Read More

Changing Pharmaceutical Paradigms

I recently had the pleasure of moderating a discussion of “New Business Paradigms for Pharmaceutical Companies” between John LaMattina and Ronald Breslow at a joint ACS/Société de Chimie Industrielle luncheon in Jersey City, N.J. LaMattina is the former president of Pfizer Global Research & Development and Breslow is a University Professor at Columbia University and a former president of ACS. The announcement for the luncheon nicely summed up the situation we face: “Many observers believe the traditional pharmaceutical company model is broken. As patents expire, pharmaceutical companies are having an increasingly difficult time filling their product pipelines with new blockbuster drugs. Firms are responding by cutting back on the number of research programs they pursue and the number of researchers that pursue them. They are trying simpler internal structures and more complex external alliances. Results, however, are slow in coming.” In my comments, I pointed to an unsolicited e-mail I had received the day before the luncheon from Thomson Reuters Pharma on their Pharma Matters Report. The introduction to the report states: “The ‘2011 Pharmaceutical R&D Factbook’ … paints a gloomy picture of the current health of the pharmaceutical industry: R&D expenditures fell in 2010 to a three-year low of $68 billion, while the number of drugs entering phase I, II, and III trials fell by 47, 53, and 55 percent respectively. In addition, only 21 new molecular entities reached the market in 2010, down from 26 in 2009.” It also states: “This decline in R&D spend is coupled with an increasingly tough regulatory environment, making it more difficult for drugs to progress through pipelines: 55 drugs failed at the phase III stage during 2008-2010, more than double the number of failures during 2005-2007.” LaMattina’s comments focused on the negative impact of mergers and acquisitions on pharmaceutical R&D (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nrd3514), calling them “a major factor in the decline in R&D productivity.” He pointed out that the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturing Association had 42 members in 1988, of which only 11 exist today as independent companies. While there are more than 11 current members of PhRMA, “the fact is that, due to industry consolidation as well as some companies dropping their pharmaceutical R&D, there is far less competition in this industry than there was a decade ago.” Two effects of this trend, he said, are that “multiple entries in a compound class—for example, statins—will be less likely to occur” and “mergers result in the net effect of fewer researchers in big pharma R&D.” Multiple entries in a class are important, he said, because the first drug of a class that reaches the market is rarely the best drug. He...

Read More

A Realistic Look At Energy

It has been clear for decades that the U.S. desperately needs a national energy policy. As many commentators have pointed out, developing such a policy would have been a productive response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A national energy policy that included a tax on carbon, for example, would have reduced our unhealthy dependence on imported oil and spurred innovation on alternative fuels and more efficient machines and construction techniques. A decade after those tragic events, very little has changed on the energy front. Developing a coherent energy policy, however, is dependent on a clear understanding of all of the dimensions of energy production and use; the economic, societal, and environmental consequences of energy consumption; and public perceptions of all aspects of the energy landscape. An informative monograph dealing with all of these subjects was brought to my attention earlier this summer by L. Louis Hegedus, a distinguished chemical engineer with more than 40 years of industrial experience who is now a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at RTI International. A number of years ago, Hegedus was a member of C&EN’s Advisory Board. Hegedus and Dorota S. Temple, a senior fellow in electronics and energy technologies at RTI, are the editors of “Viewing America’s Energy Future in Three Dimensions.” As stated in the preface to the monograph, “The objective of this work was to help frame the ongoing discussion of America’s energy future in the context of all three dimensions—technology, economics, and social sciences—and to draw attention to research needs pertaining to the intersection of the societal factors domain with technology and economics.” The premise of “Viewing America’s Energy Future in Three Dimensions” is that, “Energy technology and energy economics are necessary, although not sufficient conditions for solving the energy conundrum; the sufficient condition derives from the societal dimension.” Hegedus, Temple, and their coauthors do an excellent job of concisely laying out the fundamentals of energy technology and energy economics in the U.S. While climate change is a consideration in their analysis of the national energy challenge, it is by no means the sole, or even dominant, one. “Beyond producing CO2” they write, “using coal and imported oil is associated with additional important and urgent concerns” that “require timely action regardless of the time scale and outcomes of climate change considerations.” People’s attitudes toward energy technologies and energy economics will have a significant impact on how the nation addresses its energy challenges, Hegedus and Temple argue, and more research is needed to understand what shapes those attitudes. In the final chapter of the monograph, they make a number of recommendations for further research in the societal dimension of energy policy. These...

Read More

Two Harpswell alumni move on

During my trip to Cambodia in early September, my first stop was Siem Reap, the site of Cambodia’s world-famous ruins of Angkor, including Angkor Wat. For me, however, the main draw was two alumni of the Harpswell Foundation dormitories in Phnom Penh:  Suon Raksmey and So Dany. They completed their college degrees in 2010: Suon majored in biology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and So completed a law degree at Royal University of Law & Economics, in Phnom Penh. (For a taste of life at the Harpswell dorms, go here; to meet some of the science majors at the Harpswell dorms, go here) The two young women are now teachers at the Jay Pritzker Academy, located near Tachet village in Siem Reap. JPA is a pre-K-to-12, English-language college-preparatory school with a goal of enabling all its graduates to qualify for admission in U.S. universities. Students at JPA come from the surrounding poor communities. They receive free education, uniforms, books, materials, three meals a day, and even hygiene kits. Suon and So have a special mission at JPA. They are helping the first batch of college-bound JPA students prepare for the Cambodian national college entrance exams. As JPA director and principal Hedi Belkaoui explained, even though the school’s goal is to prepare all students to be admissible to U.S. colleges and universities, JPA needs to prepare for the possibility that some students won’t make the cut. Students therefore need also to be admissible to Cambodian universities as a backup plan. Instruction in JPA is in both English and Khmer. But the Cambodian national college entrance exam is only in Khmer. JPA therefore needs to ensure that students, especially those who would like to apply for admission to science degrees, have the same mastery of subjects in Khmer as they do in English. Suon and So are teaching chemistry, biology, math, and physics in Khmer to JPA’s eleventh-grade students. Suon and So fulfill their roles at JPA with seriousness, confidence, and discipline, but also with joy in helping  Cambodian children from poor families take advantage of unique opportunities similar to what they themselves  enjoyed through the Harpswell Foundation. Already they are manifesting the leadership potential that got them admitted to the Harpswell dorms in the first...

Read More

Young Cambodian women’s aspirations–in their own words

I was in Cambodia last week to visit the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory & Leadership Institute in Phnom Penh. I wanted to see what it was doing to achieve its mission of empowering a new generation of women leaders. Specifically, the foundation’s two dormitories enable young women with leadership potential to go to college in Cambodia’s capital, where the universities are located. In the dorms, the young women receive not only free accommodation but also free meals and training in leadership and the English language. Many residents come from farming families in far-flung provinces, too poor to support a daughter’s education in the capital. All the young women have a palpable desire to master their chosen fields of study and learn about the world around them. All have confidence in their ability to help Cambodia rebuild after the devastation of the Pol Pot regime. All are driven to push their country forward in development. Through the gleam in their eyes, one can easily envision them leading government ministries and building businesses 10 or 15 years from now. I spoke at length with some residents who are studying for science degrees about how they aim to help their country. The accompanying video clips are their responses to this question: How do you hope to help Cambodia advance? CHORN SOKUNTHEARY is a fourth-year biology major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is the oldest of four sisters. Cambodia has a lot of environmental problems, she says, including people just cutting forests to make way for farms. “We need to learn to protect nature to avoid disasters,” she says. “People living in rural areas depend on the forests and rivers. If the forests and rivers have problems, those people cannot make a living.” Chorn wants to be a teacher or to work with environmental organizations. She has an internship with the nongovernmental organization Culture & Environment Preservation Association. She is working with ethnic groups living in the forests near the Mekong River who may be threatened by Laos’ plan to build a hydroelectric power plant on the river BUT KANHA is a fourth-year chemistry major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She is the sixth child in a family of seven, the youngest among four sisters. All her older sisters are farmers. While in 10th grade, But’s interest in chemistry was sparked by a “nice and kind teacher” who inspired her to aspire to become her school’s top student in chemistry. “Everything around us is all chemistry,” But says. Green chemistry fascinates But. She wants to learn ways to reduce chemical hazards in products, to recycle waste, and to protect...

Read More
Dorm Life
Sep03

Dorm Life

Life in a Phnom Penh dormitory is unlike any dorm life I’ve seen before. The young women at the Harpswell Foundation dormitory in Teuk Thla are all college students, sharing rooms and chores. Chores? Yes, chores, as in cooking and cleaning. Cooking is communal, with teams deciding the menu, purchasing ingredients, and preparing lunch and dinner three meals each day of the week. Everyone has cleaning assignments, ensuring that common areas are maintained and kept clean. Residents manually wash their own clothes. Tap water can stop running at any time; water for bathing is tepid at best. Residents must be inside the premises by 8 PM. Sounds like a place the average student in the developed world won’t go near. Yet the young women who live here consider themselves extremely lucky and privileged. In this dorm, they take part in regularly held English classes, current events discussions based on news from the Cambodia Daily, and leadership training right where they live, for free. They have access to a library, to the Internet, and to resident teachers. It’s a dream place for anyone with high aspirations but whose college education was never a certainty in the first place for financial reasons. Classes for the 2011-2012 school year have not yet begun, yet the dorm is bustling. Many residents are here, using vacation time to continue studying English or take part in internships. And residents call each other sister and treat each other as sisters in the best sense of the word. The dorm transforms its residents, many of whom come from farm families in far-flung provinces of Cambodia. As Rous Sreypov tells me, “I have changed a lot since I lived in Harpswell. I have confidence, I can say what I think.” Rous’ parents, who are farmers, studied only until seventh grade. She is about to begin her second year studying economic development. Like many of the residents I spoke to, Rous sees herself as a potential leader in Cambodia’s development. The vision imposes responsibilities that may seem enormous but all residents embrace, such as older residents sharing time and knowledge to help younger residents, especially those studying in their same field. “Harpswell does not require us to do this,” says Chhon Sophea, a biochemistry major at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “We’re sharing out of love; we are doing this by...

Read More