Friday, May 17, 2024

Have a great weekend

Well, this has been a better week than I thought. Getting things done, but not quite at the rate I hoped. Here's hoping for a great weekend for you, and we'll see you on Monday. 

House Oversight and Accountability Committee advances BIOSECURE Act

Via Politico:

A group of China-based biotech companies faced a setback on Wednesday as the House Oversight and Accountability Committee overwhelmingly advanced legislation that has them in the crosshairs, Megan reports.

The bill, called the BIOSECURE Act, would effectively ban the operations of Chinese “companies of concern” in the U.S. by prohibiting them — and any businesses that use their products — from receiving federal contracts, grants or loans.

One of those companies, WuXi AppTec, is used by many large drugmakers to help develop and bring medicines to market. In the leadup to the markup, WuXi AppTec and WuXi Biologics, which have China-based parent companies, had been urging lawmakers on the House panel to remove them from the bill.

The companies have been pushing back on lawmakers’ accusations that they have ties to the Chinese government and pose a national security risk. WuXi AppTec flew executives, including Richard Connell, the company’s U.S. and EU president, to Washington as part of the push. Elizabeth Steele, one of WuXi Biologics’ lobbyists, said the company has been working to “educate legislators on what our company does and doesn’t do.”

Last month, a spokesperson for Complete Genomics, a California-based company owned by MGI Tech, said its inclusion in the bill “is based on misunderstandings and representations about the company.”

The BIOSECURE Act has continued to gain momentum since a Senate committee approved its version in March.

It will be fascinating to see what happens with this. I predict passage in the House, and either passage in the Senate, or a quiet death there. 

Sodium hydroxide tanker explodes in Ohio

Credit: Akron Beacon Journal/News 5 Cleveland
Via the Akron Beacon Journal, this news: 

A tanker carrying sodium hydroxide exploded at the Royal Chemical plant Wednesday morning in Macedonia resulting in three reported injuries, according to Macedonia Fire Chief Brian Ripley.

Two of the three people injured were transported to Metro General Hospital in Cleveland, one of them with life-threatening burns and the other with non-life-threatening, but critical burns, Ripley said.

The third individual was evaluated on the scene.

Investigators are still unsure what caused the explosion, which Ripley said occurred around 11:40 a.m. He said when crews arrived, the tanker had been split in two due to the explosion with half of the tanker inside of the building and the other half outside of the building...

I'm genuinely surprised this happened, i.e. how does sodium hydroxide cause anything to explode? I predict two things - either the tanker was over-pressured (i.e. the loader decided to pump it in without a vent) and ruptured, or the tanker had water in it and sodium hydroxide fluid was pumped in and it got hot, boiled and then ruptured. Kind of strange. 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Job posting: Senior Scientist, Chemical Synthesis, AstraZeneca, Waltham, MA

Via BlueSky: 

We are seeking for a highly motivated organic chemist who is passionate about organic synthesis to join AstraZeneca in our Waltham, MA location. This is laboratory-based position within world-leading global Oncology Chemistry group with a strong record of delivery and innovation. We are dedicated to fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment, and we welcome individuals from all backgrounds to apply.

You will be responsible for conceiving and implementing innovative synthetic strategies within projects, use your personal lab delivery expertise to help solve complex synthetic chemistry problems to deliver the next generation of oncology medicines. This includes traditional small molecules, and new targeting modalities to treat cancer. You will have the opportunity to get involved in multi-disciplinary teams and contribute to oncology pipeline progression. You will use your extensive knowledge of organic synthesis, in combination with high throughput experimentation and automation, to discover innovative approaches to synthetically challenging molecules, and to develop robust chemistry amenable to scale-up.

Essential Qualifications:

  • PhD in organic chemistry and 0-5 years of relevant industrial experience OR BS/MS and 5+ years of relevant industrial experience
  • Expert knowledge of modern methods of synthetic organic chemistry including late-stage functionalization
  • Passion for organic synthesis with demonstrated expertise in multi-step synthesis, new synthetic routes design and optimization
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Congress pushes out BIOSECURE Act deadlines to 2032, WuXi denies transfer of IP

Via Reuters (May 10), this update to the BIOSECURE Act: 

A new version of a congressional bill that would restrict U.S. business with certain Chinese biotechnology companies including WuXi AppTec and BGI would give U.S. companies until 2032 to end work with the firms, extending the amount of time to find new partners.

The latest Biosecure Act also adds WuXi Biologics, opens new tab to a list of biotech companies of concern, according to a copy seen by Reuters. The other companies on the list are BGI, MGI, Complete Genomics and WuXi AppTec. 

The companies are largely contractors that do research and manufacturing work for pharmaceutical and biotech firms around the world.

The revised bill was introduced on Friday. A U.S. House of Representatives committee is expected to decide next week whether to move it forward, according to a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability spokesperson.

The committee markup, expected Wednesday, is a procedural step where they discuss and vote on the text of the bill. A similar Senate bill was approved by a committee there in March.

I'm not surprised this happened, i.e. Congress isn't that stupid and doesn't want to be on the hook for cutting off American medicine supplies. But I am, overall, pretty surprised that this is actually seeming to march its way through Congress and onto the President's desk. We'll have to see what comes out of markup today, I suppose. 

In other news, WuXi denies that it gave information to the Chinese government (article by FiercePharma)

Of all the allegations thrown at WuXi AppTec during an ongoing U.S. biosecurity crackdown, a recent intelligence report that the company had transferred an American client’s intellectual property to Beijing without consent was one of the most damning. Facing potential sanctions, the contract research and manufacturing giant is now rebutting the claim in a new letter to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

WuXi Apptec’s leadership is “not aware of, would never approve, does not condone, and has a zero-tolerance policy against any attempt to mishandle or transfer a customer’s intellectual property (IP) to any unauthorized party,” the company said in a recent letter penned by co-CEO Steve Yang and its U.S. and European president Richard Connell, Ph.D.

The WuXi executives addressed the May 3 letter to the DOD’s assistant secretary of defense for industrial base policy, Laura D. Taylor-Kale, Ph.D.

It's somewhat less than Shermanesque*, but a denial is not a studied silence either. 

This is all very fascinating, and it remains (although not much remains!) to be seen whether the BIOSECURE Act will gain Congressional approval and a presidential signature. 

*"did not and would never hand over customer intellectual property to the government of China" would be my proposal if I were the one to write it

(An obvious, though impertinent question - why hasn't WuXi simply donated several million dollars to the Trump 2024 campaign, and simply purchased their support much like a TikTok investor attempted to do? If this is really happening and it would obviously have a very large impact on future business, time to give it a shot? Time for WuXi to buy a ticket to Miami?) 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 556 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 556 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On May 23, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 627 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching-focused positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Here's the first open thread. Here's a link to the second, open thread. Here's a link to the current, third open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread.  

Monday, May 13, 2024

Paraffin as rocket fuel?

Via Bloomberg, this news: 

Companies are trying all kinds of things to find their way in the increasingly competitive space industry.

A German startup is adding candle wax to that list.

HyImpulse Technologies last week launched a sounding rocket powered by a combination of liquid oxygen and solid paraffin – a petroleum byproduct that’s a key ingredient in candles.

Mario Kobald, who co-founded the company in 2018, is taking this approach because he saw too many young companies trying to develop rockets similar to Elon Musk’s industry giant SpaceX, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene to fuel its workhorse Falcon 9 rockets.

“You cannot compete with the costs of a system that’s already on the market for many years when you have established players like SpaceX,” says Kobald, who started HyImpulse with several former classmates from the University of Stuttgart, where he received a PhD in aerospace engineering.

Gotta say, the relative price and safety of paraffin is probably quite attractive... 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Have a great weekend

So this was a great week, all things considered. Sometimes you feel like you phoned it in, but I guess things turned out all right, and that will have to do. It helps to have a great team around you, and I felt like this week was great for learning about that as well. I hope that you had a great week, that you have a wonderful weekend and that we'll see you on Monday. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Beethoven had lead poisoning from drinking wine

Via the New York Times, this science news: 

...Kevin Brown, an Australian businessman with a passion for Beethoven, owned three of the locks and wanted to honor Beethoven’s request in 1802 that when he died doctors might attempt to figure out why he had been so ill. Mr. Brown sent two locks to a specialized lab at the Mayo Clinic that has the equipment and expertise to test for heavy metals.

The result, said Paul Jannetto, the lab director, was stunning. One of Beethoven’s locks had 258 micrograms of lead per gram of hair and the other had 380 micrograms.

A normal level in hair is less than 4 micrograms of lead per gram.

“It definitely shows Beethoven was exposed to high concentrations of lead,” Dr. Jannetto said.

“These are the highest values in hair I’ve ever seen,” he added. “We get samples from around the world and these values are an order of magnitude higher.”

Beethoven’s hair also had arsenic levels 13 times what is normal and mercury levels that were 4 times the normal amount. But the high amounts of lead, in particular, could have caused many of his ailments, Dr. Jannetto said.

The technique used (unsurprisingly) was ICP-MS. (Here's the scientific letter.) It's a shame that a brilliant mind was also poisoned... 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 555 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 555 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On May 16, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 626 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching-focused positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Here's the first open thread. Here's a link to the second, open thread. Here's a link to the current, third open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread.  

Job posting: Formulation Chemist, ACTEGA North America Technologies, Providence, RI

Via C&EN Jobs, this positions in Providence, RI:  

General Summary:

The Formulation Chemist spearheads the development new products through innovative solutions, while also identifying emerging technologies pertinent to business objectives. Collaboratively build systems and support product/engineering teams and offering expertise in energy cure chemistries to build robust systems. Develop and commercialize new products; Provide scale-up support and technical guidance to production. As well as ongoing project assignments, formal project reports writing, and research & development activities, as needed. 

Essential Job Functions & Responsibilities:

  • Develop Adhesives formulations, preferably UV curable, aimed at achieving best performance specific to well-defined end use requirements.
  • Independently design experiments, execute testing, collect data, and draw conclusions from development work.
  • Develop and support on projects from concept to commercialization.
  • Hands on working in the laboratory environment and support with printing of various UV-curing chemistries on press to test new formulation designs....

Qualifications & Requirements:

  • BS degree with 7 years of experience, or MS with 5 years of experience, or PhD with 3 years of experience in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Material Science or Polymer Chemistry. Experienced, hands-on scientist with strong laboratory technique and problem-solving skills, including proficiency in designing experiments.
  • Background in formulation and chemistry, specifically with UV-curable and/or water-based inks, coatings, and preferably adhesives.
  • Strong chemistry background in polymer structure property relationships in formulations. Understanding of chemical regulatory regulation for USA, Europe, and United Kingdom for printing inks. Knowledge of the Graphic Arts Printing Industry: flexographic, gravure, screen and offset printing applications. Understanding of various object printing on substrates such as Glass, Aluminum, and plastics is a plus. Ability to work in a small group setting.

Posted salary is "From $90,000 per year + 10% annual bonus target." Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested.

Monday, May 6, 2024

C&EN: Survey indicates the most desired skills for entry-level chemistry from industrial chemists

Also in this week's C&EN, this very interesting news about a survey (and J. Chem. Ed. paper by Hamilton, Castillo and Atkinson) (article by Krystal Vasquez): 

...To answer this question, Hamilton and his colleagues surveyed chemists from 80 chemical-related companies. The researchers found that professionals want chemists with bachelor’s degrees to have some expertise in mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy (J. Chem. Educ. 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.3c00990).

They also value chemists that have good communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.

The researchers then compared their survey results to existing literature about instrumentation and other skills being taught in undergraduate courses. Hamilton says that most undergrad lab courses do “a decent job” of giving students access to most of these top-five instruments. “But I think we could definitely be doing a better job.”

It's not surprising that LC and GC are up there, but I'm a bit surprised that mass spec is up there as well. What is weirder to me is that basic maintenance was not a skill set (sub skill set?) that was not called out in the article and/or the survey results. Nevertheless, it sounds like there wasn't a lot of data out there about this, so this is really great that the authors put together this survey. 

(...why doesn't ACS do this?...) 

C&EN: "WuXi AppTec revenues slump in the first quarter"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this news (article by Aayushi Pratap): 

Shanghai-based WuXi AppTec, which is a subject of a proposed US bill that aims to cut business ties with a handful of Chinese pharmaceutical service companies, announced first-quarter sales of $1.1 billion, down 11% from the prior year. Revenues excluding those from COVID-19 commercial projects dropped 1.8%. The company expects to generate sales of over $5 billion this year despite what it calls “uncertainties in the external environment,” a possible reference to the proposed US legislation.

This is interesting, in that I don't think this Q1 slump is about the BIOSECURE Act. Rather, I wonder if it is connected with a potential slowdown in global demand for pharma services? It's hard to know. This is worth following, I think...

Friday, May 3, 2024

Have a good weekend

Well, the thing that needed to get done finally got done. Maybe I'll escape with my hide intact. I am looking forward to a fun weekend. I hope that you have a great weekend, and see you on Monday.

The impacts of the new EPA rule on methylene chloride to laboratories in the United States

I have been making nervous noises about the EPA ban on methylene chloride, and I believe that my thoughts are confirmed (unbeknownst to me) by the American Chemical Society's comment on the (then proposed) rule (opens PDF, via ACS' Will Hartwig):

ACS appreciates the current proposed rule’s goal of protecting public health. However, ACS is concerned that the current proposal to regulate methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane (DCM), fails to account for its use in small scale and particularly academic teaching and research laboratories.

Both the EPA (with 40 CFR 262 Subpart K) and OSHA (with 29 CFR 1910.1450) have recognized that regulations aimed at protecting workers in industry do not translate to academic laboratories. As currently structured, the rule would be extremely challenging for academic institutions to implement and would negatively impact research and teaching. The proposed rule is not appropriate for academic laboratories because exposures are low, infrequent, and well managed using existing regulations and engineering controls (e.g. chemical fume hoods)

From my analysis of the new rule, any workplace that uses methylene chloride must:

  1. determine and document who uses DCM
  2. document and monitor the exposure during usage, which
  3. means getting a monitoring device (likely a PID, is my guess, which is a $4000 instrument)*
  4. determining and documenting TWAs for each usage and user

(I've read enough comments from industry to understand that the PIDs that are available aren't particularly well suited for this usage, so that's another problem. (page 6, PDF)

I'm not a chemical safety professional, so I could be wrong. But that's my basic read of the new rule, and I think it is matched by the ACS. No professor is going to this - instead, they're going to either 1) ignore the new rule or 2) ban the use of DCM in their labs. Hard to know which one they will choose.

I'd love people's opinions.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Job posting: Principal Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry, San Diego, CA

Via friend of the blog Alex Goldberg, this job posting: 

Principal Scientist, Medicinal Chemistry

The successful candidate will lead lab chemistry efforts in the department enabling projects across the portfolio. They will also utilize the Genesis Therapeutics platform and assist medicinal chemistry efforts in drug discovery programs from Hit ID through candidate nomination. They will collaborate on multidisciplinary drug discovery projects, direct CRO chemists, and be responsible for synthetic chemistry strategy. The candidate will be expected to be a synthetic chemistry leader to drive programs.

Job Responsibilities:

  • Formulate and implement synthetic chemistry strategies across a portfolio to drive drug discovery programs from Hit ID through candidate nomination.
  • Identify opportunities to improve lab functions through technology, synthetic chemistry, or external resources.
  • Utilize the Genesis platform to execute drug discovery programs.
  • Use SBDD principles, optimize physiochemical properties, interpret in vitro and in vivo ADME/PK/Toxicology data, and understand in vitro and in vivo biology data to drive programs.
  • Work with other drug discovery disciplines (biology, DMPK, software engineers, computational chemists) to drive hypothesis driven decisions, improve the platform and contribute to the scientific excellence of the company.
  • Communicate and engage regularly with project team members.
  • Interact and direct a team of CRO chemists anywhere in size from 5-20.
  • Mentor internal chemists as well as other scientific disciplines on synthetic chemistry strategy.

Education and Experience Requirements:

  • PhD in synthetic organic chemistry or medicinal chemistry with at least 6 years of industrial drug discovery experience OR
  • MS in synthetic organic chemistry with at least 10 years of industrial drug discovery experience
Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

EPA bans most uses of methylene chloride

Via C&EN, this news: 
The US Environmental Protection Agency has banned most uses of methylene chloride, a solvent that has been linked to a number of adverse health effects and some deaths.

Since 1980, at least 88 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride, the agency says. Longer-term exposure can also lead to liver damage and the development of at least six different types of cancers, it adds.

Methylene chloride is the second compound, after asbestos, to be banned under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act. The ban, which follows a risk assessment and an April 2023 proposal, will phase out all consumer uses within a year and most industrial and commercial uses within the next 2 years.

Uses of methylene chloride that are exempt from the ban include as a raw material for producing electric-vehicle batteries and climate-friendly refrigerant chemicals. And methylene chloride can continue to be used as a laboratory chemical.

“For each use of the chemical that will continue, EPA has developed a first-of-its-kind worker protection program, so that the workers who are helping make and use the chemical . . . are protected, as they deserve to be,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said during a press briefing. Workplaces that are exempt from the ban will have 18 months to put worker protections in place.

Pharmaceutical use isn't covered by TSCA. Here's the finalized rule. I have strong suspicions that the workplace safety requirements are pretty strict, but I'm going to withhold judgment until I read the whole thing, which I haven't.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 554 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

The 2024 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated by Andrew Spaeth and myself) has 554 research/teaching positions and 86 teaching positions

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions.

To see trending, go to Andrew Spaeth's visualization of previous years' list.

On May 9, 2023, the 2023 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List had 626 research/teaching positions and 82 teaching-focused positions.

Want to talk anonymously? Have an update on the status of a job search? Here's the first open thread. Here's a link to the second, open thread. Here's a link to the current, third open thread. 

Don't forget to click on "load more" below the comment box for the full thread.  

Job posting: professor of practice, Department of Chemistry, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

From the inbox: 

The Department of Chemistry at Tulane University invites applications for a Professor of Practice position beginning in the Fall 2024. The successful applicant will have a Ph.D. in Chemistry with expertise in Organic Chemistry. Duties will include supervising General Chemistry Laboratories, which, in total, involves about 17 teaching assistants, and teaching a section of General Chemistry lecture class (~150 students).  The Department of Chemistry recognizes and rewards innovative and quality teaching. Candidates interested in creating and adopting pedagogical innovations will find many opportunities and support to pursue their interests. The successful candidate will have a record of excellent teaching and mentoring at the undergraduate level, and commitment to student-centered teaching and to increasing diversity in chemistry.  

The Professor of Practice appointment is renewable every three years (initially) and every five years after promotion to Senior Professor of Practice. 

Search started on April 22. Full ad here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Monday, April 29, 2024

If a lab accident happened and no one saw it, did it really happen?

In this week's C&EN, this letter to the editor: 

I just had to comment on the two pieces from Newscripts in the April 1 issue of C&EN (page 40). In the first piece, the revelation by Jessica Pomerantz reminded me of an experience I had in 1977 in a senior-level physical chemistry class at Iowa State University. 

It involved a Lewis acid-base reaction of boron trifluoride and trimethylamine in a rather complex glass network that included a liquid-nitrogen cold trap because the reaction was so exothermic. The instructions for valve settings and operation were quite specific and stated that if they were not followed explicitly, the apparatus could explode. I arranged all valves meticulously, or so I thought, and then opened the valve on the BF3 cylinder, which was connected to the glassware inlet by a rubber hose. Unfortunately, the one valve I forgot to open was the inlet valve to the apparatus. Within seconds, the hose popped off, and I had a fuming ball of BF3 within 1 ft (0.3 m) or so of my face. I had the presence of mind to shut off the cylinder valve, and then I watched as the fuming cloud, which stayed intact, floated to the ceiling and rolled all the way to the other corner and escaped through a roof vent. It reminded me of the movie The Blob, except this blob rolled along the ceiling and not the floor. My classmates and the teaching assistant were so absorbed in their own work that they did not observe the blob. Nobody at Iowa State ever learned of my slight mistake. I successfully completed the experiment on the second attempt.

This brings me to the second Newscripts article. During my many years in industry and to this day, I have written numerous articles for various technical trade magazines, including Chemical Engineering, Power Engineering, and others. I am now a self-employed technical writer and consultant. From the experience above and several others during my career (such as tripping and falling into several inches of yucky flue gas desulfurization sludge), I can decidedly appreciate the title of the second piece, “And This Is Why We’re Journalists Now.”

Brad Buecker
Lawrence, Kansas

I've had my share of near misses and dumb errors and I'm glad that I can look at them with humor now. 

It is strange to me how laboratory chemical experiments of the past were seemingly so complex compared to the microscale experiments I performed in my undergraduate education in the 1990s. While we certainly generated less waste, I wonder if some of the really cool chemistry was lost to time...

(The answer to the headline is, of course, "yes.")

C&EN: "Dow and BASF post upbeat first-quarter results"

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this good news (article by Alex Tullo): 

First-quarter financial results are out from Dow and BASF. And if these two chemical giants are setting the trend for their peers—which are due to report their results over the next several weeks—the industry may be turning the corner after a dismal 2023.

Dow’s sales fell 9.2% from the year-earlier period, while adjusted earnings slipped 5.1%. Sales and prices were down across all its business.

But compared with the fourth quarter of 2023, Dow’s sales and earnings were up 1.4% and 28.8%, respectively. A small decline in its core packaging and specialty plastics segment was more than offset by growth in its industrial intermediates and infrastructure business and its performance materials and coatings unit.

Excess capacity hit the petrochemical industry hard last year, particularly in high-cost regions such as Europe. But Dow CEO Jim Fitterling was upbeat during his April 25 conference call with analysts. “Most of the capacity is in the market already, and we’re seeing volume growth,” he said.

Dow’s own operating rates rose 10% in the first quarter, Fitterling reported. And he said lower-cost locales like the US and the Middle East should perform strongly. “We have been through the worst of it on the slowdown in the cycle,” he added.

BASF announced that it “got off to a solid start in 2024.” Its sales fell 12.2% and its earnings dropped 12.9% from the year-earlier quarter. The company attributes the decline primarily to lower prices. A few key businesses, such as chemicals, materials, nutrition, and personal care, saw improvements in volumes.

I used to think that basic chemical manufacturers' businesses were pro-cyclical (i.e. they do well when the broader economy does well), but the post-pandemic economy feels like that has broken that connection. Here's hoping that this good news means good news for the broader economy as well.