Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Arrrrrgh! Avast! D'oh!

Stupid stupid stupid, or desperate. Pirates off the Somali coast have become such a problem that major shippers are refusing to transit the Gulf of Aden. Tankers make easy pickings. Unless they're military tankers. It's too bad the US Navy's too humane to sink the pirates outright.
Heavily armed Somali pirates have hijacked more than 30 merchant vessels of the Horn of Africa country this year, with attacks off its coast and the Gulf of Aden almost every day.
Ordinary tankers are completely unarmed. Apparently it's cheaper to pay ransom and lose product than to keep a viable security team on board.

Intertanko, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, isn't too happy:
INTERTANKO’s Executive Committee meeting recently has expressed its extreme disquiet over the escalating number of violent attacks against shipping in the Gulf of Aden. They are especially concerned at the apparent failure of the Coalition naval forces to protect merchant shipping and seafarers in the vicinity of Somalia and their relative ineffectiveness in intercepting the terrorist groups involved.

The Committee noted that UN Resolution 1816 (2008) calls upon states to ‘Use, within the territorial waters of Somalia, in a manner consistent with action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law, all necessary means to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery;’ and further ‘Calls upon all States, and in particular flag, port and coastal States, States of the nationality of victims and perpetrators of piracy and armed robbery, and other States with relevant jurisdiction under international law and national legislation, to cooperate in determining jurisdiction, and in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, consistent with applicable international law including human rights law.’
Information Dissemination has an interesting story, bizarre and disturbing, actually, where the pirates seem to have gotten much more than they bargained for from an Iranian cargo ship.
The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates - 50 onboard and 50 onshore. Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died. "Yes, some of them have died. I do not know exactly how many but the information that I am getting is that some of them have died," Andrew Mwangura, Director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, said Friday when reached by phone in Mombasa.

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. Osman also confirmed to The Long War Journal that during the six days he negotiated with the pirates members of the syndicate had become sick and died. "That ship is unusual," he said. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."
Go read it, really.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ranbaxy? Wow.

The effluent has finally hit the fan. Ranbaxy has stonewalled the FDA for ages to keep records relating to quality audits at its manufacturing facility in Paonta Sahib secret, but the FDA seems to have lost patience: yesterday it banned the importation of anything produced at Ranbaxy's plants at both Dewas and Paonta Sahib. From an FDA press release:
The Warning Letters identify the agency's concerns about deviations from U.S. current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements at Ranbaxy's manufacturing facilities in Dewas and Paonta Sahib (including the Batamandi unit), in India. Because of the extent and nature of the violations, FDA today issued an Import Alert, under which U.S. officials may detain at the U.S. border, any active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) (the primary therapeutic component of a finished drug product) and both sterile and non-sterile finished drug products manufactured at these Ranbaxy facilities and offered for import into the United States....

Earlier today, the FDA informed Ranbaxy that until it resolves the deficiencies at each of these two facilities and the plants come into compliance with U.S. cGMP requirements, FDA's drug compliance office will recommend denial of approval of any New Drug Applications (NDAs) and Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs) that list the Paonta Sahib or Dewas plants respectively as the manufacturer of APIs or finished drug products.
That's shocking. As the FDA's press release says, Ranbaxy is one of the biggest importers of generics into the US. The action casts doubt on the standards of all Indian drug manufacturers, who have worked for years to improve their reputation. It was only months ago that the heparin disaster raised the possibility that offshoring might be proceeding to quickly. Anyone considering outsourcing the manufacture of their API to India will factor this example into their calculation of risk. They will already be considering the rising costs of India and China, where inflation is over 10%.

I wonder how Daiichi Sankyo feels about their acquisition now-- as if it hadn't been hard enough to get Japanese to use generics....

Monday, September 15, 2008

Not for the naked eye

Via David Thompson's great blog, this spectacular view of the sun joined to music.

Brilliant Noise from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"That's enough %#@ from you Yankees!"

Is this a reference to a b-movie? No, just a b-dictator. My favorite international provocateur, Hugo Chavez (henceforth "Ooogo"), is clowning for the cameras again, this time by kicking out the US ambassador. Click the video and hear Ooogo shout "Yankees de mierda vayanse mil veces al carajo," to the crowd ("Shitty Yankees, go 1,000 times to Hell" -- translation and link via Devil's Excrement, the best place for news of Venezuela).

Only yesterday, his bud Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, did the same thing, claiming that the ambassador to Bolivia has been stirring up trouble. Ooogo didn't try to get original or anything, saying: "They're trying to do here what they were doing in Bolivia. That's enough %#@ from you, Yankees." Whatever. He's still got to sell his oil to us or nobody, and those oil revenues seem to be the only thing standing between coffee rationing (in Venezuela?!) and economic collapse.

Apparently the two amigos are feeling their geopolitical oats. Just last week, Morales was in Iran, getting chummy with Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs. Coincidence? Jeff Kouba at Peace Like a River suggests it isn't. He quotes a report from IRNA that says:
Morales, who arrived in Assalouyeh on Wednesday to visit South Pars gas field facilities in Bushehr Province, told reporters, “I have never been a US supporter and my nation has a background of 500 years of struggle against colonialism.” “The huge installations of gas and petrochemicals here impressed me and I admire such progress of Iranians,” Morales added.

He said, “Imposing sanctions against us pushes our countries to work better and harder and to develop our territories.” The Bolivian president continued, “I feel sorry that I did not contact with Iran earlier.” He said, “I intend to take advantage of created opportunity and work with Iran seriously and promptly.” Morales also called for transfer of Iran’s experiences in the fields of oil, gas and petrochemical industries to Bolivia.

"Did Morales discuss expelling the US Ambassador with Iran?" asks Kouba. "Did Morales expel the Ambassador as a sign of his willingness to “resist pressure,” as a good-faith sign to encourage the Iranian experience and assistance he covets?"

Ooogo has already visited Iran, and he's also cozy with Vladimir Putin, who sent two Russian strategic bombers on a visit to Venezuela this week. Don't I mean Medvedev? Yeah, right.
"The presence of those Russian planes in Venezuela is a warning," Chavez said. "There's nothing better to keep yourself from being attacked than to dissuade."
Uh, can't argue with a tautology, now can you?

Anyway, the bombers are only the start. In November, the Russians will send a small naval force for "exercises." Is this the Cuban Missile Crisis redux? Ooogo only wishes he could stir up so much trouble. Galrahn at Information Dissemination writes: "Hardly surprising, Hugo Chavez is making a big deal out of it, but also hardly surprising, the US is shrugging shoulders saying 'so what?'" He quotes an article in the Navy Times:
The Defense Department seemed unaffected Monday by an announcement from Venezuela and Russia that Russian warships would sail to the Caribbean this winter for exercises with the Venezuelan fleet — the first-ever such move by the Russian navy.

Pentagon officials did not express particular concern over the announcement from Caracas. “We’re aware of the announcement made in Venezuela,” said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, “and we’ll see how it goes.”
Galrahn puts an interesting spin on the visit of the Russians:
This development should be seen for what it is, a response to the Russia's objections to humanitarian response and naval activity in the Black Sea. While Russia will be sure to hype it, and Hugo Chavez will be part of the over hype, it is very much a good thing because it is one of those small steps towards Russia saving face. Sometimes this type of non-escalation - media escalation stuff is necessary to bring about the normalization of relations.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Starved for ideas, he says.

"The rumor seems to be going around that Pfizer might be making a bid for Bayer (aka Bayer/Schering). That sounds ridiculous to me, and if Pfizer actually does such a thing, then its management is even more starved for ideas than its nastiest critics could believe," says Derek Lowe, a very smart guy who knows what he's talking about. His explanation is convincing. If you're interested in pharma, his blog is a must-read.

Friday, September 5, 2008

...and tell them that we love them!!!

Last month I commented on the people terrorizing researchers who work with animals. If I didn't convince you then that those "activists" are mentally ill, check out this video of some sort of Earth First retreat.

Close to psychotic, don't you think? Earth First is a cult.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"A sort of disaster"

That's what one banker doing business in Russia says of his investments there.
"I have assets in both Georgia and Russia and I'm going to get out. What seemed a great idea at that time has become a sort of disaster," said a 31-year-old banker at one of the world's top 10 investment banks, who -- like most here -- spoke on condition of anonymity.
An article in the NYTimes examines the effect of the invasion of Georgia on the Russian economy, suggesting that, however weak the official Western response to Russian aggression has been, the country could pay big in regard to foreign investment.
Russian shares have lost about a third of their value since hitting record highs in May. Russian and Western bank analysts polled by Reuters have cut forecasts for Russia's gold and foreign exchange reserves.

As much as $25 billion in foreign capital may have left Russia since the Georgia conflict started, they said: while their growth forecasts were little changed at 7.5 percent, the crisis sharply cut the liquidity of the banking system.

BP's experience in the country doesn't recommend putting your money there, and this latest bullying only supplements the case against it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pain is a growth market

I'm not going all existential on you, don't worry. Pain is a growth market for pharmaceuticals; and this is good news for fine chemical companies that have a DEA license to manufacture controlled substances, as Steve Klosk, CEO of Cambrex, pointed out in the company's recent earnings call:
The control substances market in the U.S. is far and away the most significant controlled substance market in the world. It is dominated by a small handful of domestic players that have been qualified by the DEA to produce or sell these substances and whom have little or no competition from foreign manufacturers due to DEA requirements.

Cambrex is one of the few companies situated to produce a wide range of APIs for sales to end markets. Last year, we sold approximately $15 million worth of controlled substances and have already sold a little over $10 million through June of this year. Our current products are focused on the attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder market and pain management.

Pain management is the key therapeutic growth area and we intend to develop more products to this segment of the market.
Western fine chemical companies have been focusing on technology and other capabilities, such as a DEA license, to differentiate themselves from low-cost Asian competitors. Later in the call, Klosk says that the company will be relying on controlled substances and proprietary drug delivery technologies (like its taste-masking Camouflage) to bring gross margins back to the 30% range.
I think the key, Mike, is we have talked about is driving the mix toward products that are influenced by our IP. So the two key strategic initiatives in terms of growing the controlled substance business and growing the drug delivery business are frankly going to be the biggest key towards driving the margins back toward the mid-30s. And hopefully higher than that as we go out in the later years.