The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Monthly Archives: August 2009

Monday Deal Review: August 31, 2009

B&W_BigNickelThis week Canada seems to have accounted for a significant chunk of the Western Hemisphere’s biopharma deal activity … by numbers, anyway. By dollars, all is dwarfed by the $3.1 billion Proctor & Gamble/Warner Chilcott deal, but don’t let that stop you from reading on after the jump…

Patheon Special Committee Responds to JLL Statements

Patheon’s special committee issued a press release today in which it:

“commented … on the recent expiry of the unsuccessful bid by JLL … and recent statements by JLL regarding the previously announced proposal by Lonza … to acquire all of the outstanding Shares at a price of US$3.55 per share.”

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Friday Science Review: August 28, 2009

A Montreal flavour this week…

Critical link between EGFR and Src oncogenes: On the heels of last week’s Friday Science Review post on Stat3 in breast cancer, Dr. William Muller’s research team at McGill University has published another significant find linking well known oncogenes, Src and EGFR/ErbB2.  Among their results, they demonstrated how Src can interact with some mutant EGFR receptors (identified in lung cancers) but not with wild type EGFR.  When a Src inhibitor was applied to cells expressing mutant EGFR, it attenuated the cancer-inducing potential of these EGFR mutants.  This suggests that Src is an important enzyme in the EGFR mutant signaling pathway and may present an alternate pathway to combat cancer cell resistance to EGFR inhibitors.

Details of this study are described in this week’s Molecular and Cellular Biology.

MET oncogene in breast cancer: Next door to the Muller Lab at the new Goodman Cancer Centre in Montreal is Dr. Morag Park and her research team who recently generated a mouse model to mimic and study the Met oncogene in breast cancer.  The results were a complex cancer phenotype where gene expression and histological profiles demonstrated similarities to aggressive human breast cancers expressing Met.  Whereas prior to their study, Met was only correlated with poor outcome in breast cancer patients, this mouse model provides the specific link and identifies clinical cases where anti-Met therapy may be beneficial.

You can read more about it here in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Key proteins in Natural Killer Cells: Also this week, Dr. André Veillette’s lab at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) generated new insight into how Natural Killer Cells combat cancers of the blood, such as leukemias and lymphomas, or virus-infected blood cells.  As part of our immune system, the defense function of Natural Killer Cells requires three small proteins named SAP, EAT-2 and ERT that are unique to immune cells.  The proteins relay information from the cell surface SLAM family receptors to direct immune activities.  These data may eventually lead to pharmacological methods to increase the activity of Natural Killer Cells in destroying blood cancer cells or virus-infected cells.

Veillette’s lab generated knock-out mice missing all three proteins, which led to their findings, which are published in the latest edition of Nature Immunology.

p53 is regulated by JNK: p53 is a tumor suppressor protein that plays an important role in regulating cell growth and survival.  Its critical functions in the cell require p53 to be highly regulated through multiple layers of control, both to turn on and to turn off the protein’s activities.  One such method recently described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is through phosphorylation by the enzyme JNK.  This phosphorylation protects p53 from being targeted for destruction, thereby allowing p53 complexes to form and continue with their gene activating activities.

This research project was a collaboration between the Burnam Institute in San Diego and Dr. Katherine Borden’s team at the Université de Montréal.

Jurassic Park (for real?): Can you convert a chicken embryo to develop into a dinosaur?  No, this is not the makings of a movie but the idea of paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University who is proposing to try to make it work.  The theory is that by manipulating or swapping certain “switch” genes during the chicken embryo’s development, he can reproduce some features of a dinosaur.  He does not actually intend to hatch live prehistoric animals – for obvious reasons:

“It’s a demonstration of evolution,” said Larsson, who has studied bird evolution for the last 10 years.

“If I can demonstrate clearly that the potential for dinosaur anatomical development exists in birds, then it again proves that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs.”

“We’re not going to hatch a T. rex or something,” Larsson chuckles.

The idea came to him after meeting Jack Horner, author of the book “How to Build A Dinosaur” and the technical advisor behind the Hollywood version of Jurassic Park.

Come back to the Friday Science Review (perhaps in a few years) for an update on the “chickensaurus” experiment…

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Mid-Atlantic Bio Call for Emerging Company Presenters

Mid-Atlantic Bio LogoThe organizers of the Mid-Atlantic Bio conference, which takes place November 4-6 in Washington DC, asked me to let you (oh faithful readers) know that they are looking for “emerging companies to present to potential investors” at the conference.  There’s a “showcase” track and a “growth watch” track.  The application to present is here.

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Rumoured Omeros IPO Might Signal Newly Opened Window

light at the end of the tunnel smallAn article in Xconomy Seattle today reports rumours that Omeros, a company that has been around since 1996 and has raised over $102 million in private money, may revive its 2008 IPO plans.

The company’s lead products — “proprietary low-dose combinations of existing drugs” — are more pharma than biotech, putting it in line with Cumberland’s recent IPO.  However, Omeros also has a pipeline of preclinical CNS and inflammation molecules, so if its IPO succeeds, it may indicate that the public markets are truly (despite some skepticism) opening again to biotechs.

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Trends Update — Comparative Effectiveness: Where Data Shows No Difference, Tie Should Go To the Patient

A post by Scott Hensley on the NPR Health Blog yesterday has some good food for thought in the comparative effectiveness debate: what to do when comparative effectiveness studies show no statistically significant difference between treatments.

The post notes that insurance coverage will be a factor in these decisions, but that:

“in the end, it might be you and your gut feeling.”

In one of this blog’s prior posts, I noted that it will be hard to distinguish between treatments that show different effectiveness because of personal differences between patients and those that would show different results even if the patients were identical. 

Hensley’s post illustrates that no matter how much data we gather, there will be gray areas where doctors and patients have to make subjective calls.  I hope payors will be extremely cautious about second-guessing these decisions.  Tie goes to the patient.

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Monday Deal Review: August 24, 2009

Lonza Offers $460 Million for Patheon, JLL Rejects

JLL Partners’ long-standing bid for Patheon took a turn this morning as Lonza Group AG announced their own bid.

Here’s Lonza’s press release.

Here’s JLL’s response, rejecting the offer.

Stay tuned…

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Takeda Canada’s Opening Move: Reacquire Rights to Diabetes Drug ACTOS from Eli Lilly Canada

Takeda Canada, which opened in Mississauga in March, bought back the commercial rights to pioglitazone HCl, a type 2 diabetes drug marketed as ACTOS, from Eli Lilly Canada. Financial terms were not disclosed. Lilly had been marketing the drug in Canada under a 1999 worldwide agreement with Takeda.

Takeda Canada general manager Daaron Dohler characterized the move as “Takeda’s first opportunity to establish a commercial presence in Canada.” The company has job postings up for a manager of sales and marketing operations and two marketing directors.

Having said in March that they were targeting an NDS submission for the end of 2009, I wonder if this move points toward another diabetes product… Stay tuned.

Update: FierceBiotech’s post on the transaction this morning also notes the “boost” ACTOS got last week from the results of a comparative study against GSK’s Avandia.

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Friday Science Review: August 21, 2009

This week… cancers, brains, and fruit flies.

Combinatorial therapy to fight melanoma: Malignant melanomas are aggressive cancers that are highly resistant to chemotherapy, possibly due to high levels of Bcl-2 family anti-cell death  proteins.  Although the small molecule inhibitor, ABT-737, is effective against Bcl-2 family proteins in other cancers, it is not very effective in melanoma cases.  The reason may be due to overexpression of another protein, Mcl-1, which confers resistance to ABT-737.  When  Dr. Victor Tron’s group at Queen’s University combined ABT-737 treatment with inhibitions of Mcl-1 by way of siRNA knockdown, the cancer cells lost their resistance and underwent cell death.  These findings, appearing this week in PloS One , suggest that the combination of ABT-737 and Mcl-1 knockdown represents a promising, new treatment strategy for malignant melanoma.

Understanding Stat3 in Breast Cancer: Elevated Stat3 levels in breast cancer patients often correlate with poor clinical outcome.  To understand how Stat3 may influence cancer progression, a Stat3 knockout mouse was combined with a mouse expressing the mutant form of the breast cancer gene, ErbB2, and predisposed to develop breast tumours.  What the researchers at McGill University found was that without Stat3, breast cancer still developed but the malignancy of the mammary tumours decreased significantly with fewer animals having metastatic lesions in the lung.  Genetic profiling of the tumours showed that without Stat3, angiogenic and inflammatory responses, which often play an important role in the metastatic process, were blunted.  Remember, last week I noted an article on Par6 and TGFb in breast cancer metastasis.

This recent study, hot off the press in Cancer Research, was led by Dr. William Muller, one the early pioneers in using transgenic mouse technology.

Gene expression differences in suicide brains: This is the first study to perform global gene expression analysis on the brains of suicide cases to try to broaden the scope of suicide research to other neurotransmitter systems.  The serotonergic system is well studied as the primary area of the brain involved in suicides but there are likely other contributing factors.  Dr. Turecki’s research team at McGill University performed microarray expression studies on a number of brain tissue samples from the cortical and subcortical regions to identify potentially new molecular pathways involved in depression and suicide.  Their results revealed a number of alterations including genes involved in synaptic neurotransmission, namely upregulation of glutamatergic (excitatory) and GABAergic (inhibitory) related genes in suicide brains.  This report in PLoS One should open the research field into exploring alternate treatment methods and better understanding the development of suicide and depression.

Male hormone discovery: A new male-specific pheromone was identified on fruit flies.  When the researchers transferred some of the compound onto female fruit flies, the male flies were suddenly uninterested.  How did they identify this pheromone?  They exposed a fruit fly to a laser in a MALDI-type mass spectrometer instrument where ions are ejected into the instrument and analyzed.  Some previously unidentified compounds were discovered including this hormone.  The research was conducted at the University of Toronto Mississauga by Joel Levine and Jocelyn Millar and appears in this week’s Current Biology.

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NRC-IRAP Is On A Roll: 7 Bio Investments in 7 Weeks

NRC-IRAP LogoNRC-IRAP,* which got $170 million in Canadian stimulus money, has been deploying funds quite rapidly and has included a significant number of biotechs in its largesse.  I found these from July and August:

Am I missing others?  Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and speaking of government money, hopefully you’ve started following the Twitter stream @crossborderbio and you saw this announcement earlier today about EDC and Brookfield’s $1 billion fund for DIP lending.

* National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program.  Stick to the abbreviation.

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Trends Update — DTC Genetic Tests: NOVA ScienceNOW Program Takes a Look

B&W_DNA_sequenceYesterday’s NOVA ScienceNOW program included a segment on direct-to-consumer genomics (H/T to GenomeWeb’s Daily Scan Blog).  The program was bullish on George Church’s Personal Genome Project; but it took a pretty dim view of the predictive value of current consumer technology.

The program was accessible and interesting, but it went overboard in making a cautionary point about current DTC genomics offerings.  It transitions directly from Neal deGrasse Tyson’s 23andMe results for heart disease and diabetes to Steven Pinker’s genomic scan, which showed that Pinker had “double the risk of baldness,” whereas Steven is anything but bald.  Well, sure, and the weather report yesterday said there was an 80% chance of rain but it didn’t rain.  That doesn’t mean I should stop checking weather reports, or even that I was stupid to pack an umbrella.  It’s just probabilities.  I guess I agree with the program in the sense that anyone who can’t spot that flaw shouldn’t be interpreting their own genomic data, but it seems like an oddly condescending way for them to make the point.

Kudos, though, for pointing out:

  1. the gaps in the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act; and 
  2. the low risk to tenured Harvard profs of revealing their sequence data, as they are likely shielded from many of the risks to other participants.

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Interview With Garrett Herman Yields More Detail on the LOM-BioQuest Joint Venture

We have new details about the LOM-BioQuest joint venture that was announced last week.  The WSJ article about the JV emphasized the goals of supporting good science and expanding the two companies’ presence in the life sciences market.

I spoke to the Director of LOM BioQuest, Garrett Herman, and one of his associates yesterday about their vision for the joint venture.  They also shared with me the letter they sent announcing the JV (pdf).  Here are the highlights of the letter and our conversation:

  • They are taking a broad view of “life sciences” and plan to have the JV be the intake point for all their new projects in the space.
  • They want to take whatever approach will maximize the likelihood of good science succeeding and are willing to engage shareholders as well as management and boards.
  • Although the JV does not have any current employees, it does have “the full attention of both firms.”
  • For now, interested parties should contact the principals in the letter.
  • The plan is to nurture a few dramatic successes that will allow them to have an in-house source (or a regular stable) of capital to lead future deals, and a revived Canadian investor ecosystem to syndicate to.

I look forward to seeing LOM-BioQuest’s private sector approach to combining operating and financial advisory services, which should complement analogous efforts at NRC-IRAP and MaRS Innovation

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Another Biotech Windfall from the SIFT Tax: Vasogen Molts for Cervus and Merges with IntelliPharmaCeutics. Shareholders Applaud.

Canadian moneyIn July, we covered the deal ConjuChem Biotechnologies Inc. (TSX: CJB) made with Colabor Income Fund (TSX: CLB.UN), where ConjuChem got $5 million and the Income Fund got a public corporate shell.  ConjuChem had $8.7 million in the bank in April, but was burning it fast (pdf).

Noting at the time that ConjuChem shareholders did not react well to the deal (they still haven’t), we wondered whether future income trusts would find biotech partners willing to try the structure again. Well, the answer is “yes.”

Vasogen Inc. (NASDAQ: VSGN; TSX: VAS), which has been trading under $0.20 since releasing its Q2 results and cutting back to one employee in July, is giving its shell to Cervus LP (TSXV: CVL.UN) unit holders in exchange for $7.5 million.  Cervus is a public LP, but it’s caught by the same Canadian tax change — the SIFT tax — as income trusts, which is what is driving these entities to seek the shells of public corporations.  Vasogen shares have doubled so far today.

What does the Vasogen deal have that the ConjuChem deal lacked? Two things: more cash and a brighter future.

  • More Cash: ConjuChem got $5 million for its shell but Vasogen is getting $7.5 million.
  • A Brighter Future: Unlike ConjuChem, which planned to use its windfall to continue its existing programs, Vasogen leveraged its cash into a deal for 14% of IntelliPharmaCeutics (IPC).

IntelliPharmaCeutics has: a lead product (a generic version of Focalin XR®) that is partnered with Par Pharmaceutical and has an ANDA filed; a generic version of Coreg CR, a high blood pressure medication, that is ready for entry into bioequivalence studies, and a platform for abuse- and alcohol-resistant drug delivery technology that can build a nongeneric product pipeline.

Now IntelliPharmaCeutics will also have extra cash and access to public markets.  Everybody wins (though I assume that if Vasogen is not successful in its conversations with NASDAQ, there will be some problems).

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Trends Update — Personalized Medicine and Comparative Effectiveness: HepC Treatment Gap, Leukemia Genetics and Beckman Coulter Genomics

B&W_DNA_sequenceA few interesting items hit the news this morning that continue the trend of explaining comparative effectiveness data by examining underlying genetic variation.

  1. Genetics explains why white patients respond better than black patients to standard Hepatitis C treatment. Bloomberg reported on a Nature paper showing that Hepatitis C patients with a genetic polymorphism near the IL28B gene show a 2-fold better response to treatment than patients without the variant. Because the variant is more common in patients with European ancestry than in those with African ancestry, it accounts for about half the observed difference in treatment response between the two populations.
  2. Genetic variants were identified that are associated with increased risk of childhood leukemia, which could lead to a better understanding of disease etiology and could lead to personalized treatments down the road.
  3. In a sign that genomic technology will be an increasingly important part of healthcare, Beckman Coulter formed a new company, Beckman Coulter Genomics, that will provide gene sequencing, sample preparation and other genomic services.

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Monday Deal Review: August 17, 2009

B&W_BigNickelIn addition to the highlights already noted — Enobia’s $50 million r0und, and the LOM – BioQuest joint venture — there was plenty of other Canadian deal activity this week.  Check it out after the jump…

Friday Science Review: August 14, 2009

Great stuff this week in Canadian science news…

A GIFT for MS patients:  An experimental treatment tested in mice with multiple sclerosis was able to reverse the disorder with few side effects.   The new compound is called GIFT15 – a hybrid protein between GSM-CSF and Interleukin-15.  Surprisingly, it produces results that you would not expect from the action of the individual proteins.  GIFT15 causes B-cells to switch from immune responsive into immune-suppressive regulatory cells and this forces MS into remission.  The treatment method takes B-cells from the individual and exposes them in vitro to GIFT15 to convert them to regulatory B-cells before they are injected back into the patient – a form of personalized medicine.

As always, one should be cautious as these experiments were tested in mice and it is unknown how humans would respond .  It does, however, present a new approach to finding a treatment regime for MS and may also lead to similar therapies for other autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Jacques Galipeau led the study at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, McGill University and it is presented in the early on-line edition of Nature Medicine.

An Epilepsy gene discovery:  A mouse that experiences seizures was identified in a mutagenesis screen that led to the discovery of an inactivating mutation in the Atp1a3 gene encoding the Na(+),K(+)-ATPase alpha3 isoform protein.  It is a sodium-potassium transporter protein having important roles in maintaining the electrochemical gradient across cell membranes.  When the mutant gene was augmented with a wild type Atp1a3 gene by breeding the mutant mouse with a transgenic mouse expressing normal Atp1a3, the protein function was rescued and more importantly, the seizures subsided completely.  The human ATP1A3 is almost identical to the mouse protein and studies are underway to try to find a similar mutation in patients.

Dr. Roder’s group at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto published these results in PNAS this week.

New forensic DNA extraction tool:  High quality nucleic acids can now be extracted from the smallest sample size or from highly contaminated samples.  The technology is based on the electrical properties of nucleic acids rather than on the chemical properties that traditional purification methods are based on.  It uses a novel electrophoresis technology called SCODA (Synchronous Coefficient of Drag Alteration), a fancy name for a type of rotating electrical field that selectively acts on long, charged polymers (e.g. DNA).  This electrical field will concentrate DNA while separating it from contaminants.

The research was performed by the biophysics team led by Dr. Andre Marziali at the University of British Columbia.  They have already teamed up with UBC spin-off company, Boreal Genomics to package the technology into a cool-looking device called the Aurora.  It is not surprising that it has garnered a lot of interest from law enforcement groups in Canada and the U.S.   Of course, there are a number of other applications for this technology such as in clinical research for the early detection of diseases or infections.

The research is described in a PNAS paper that will be coming out very soon but here is the UBC press release.  A great example of “Today’s Canadian science = tomorrow’s Canadian start-ups” (…if you caught the tweet last week).

Wow!  Canadians are on a roll… more research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here are the headlines:

Dr. Jeffery Wrana’s team (Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute) describes how this signaling pathway is involved in breast cancer metastasis.

Dr. Uzonna (University of Manitoba) reports on why in some cases, vaccination against Leishmaniasis (a parasitic disease) can actually make them more susceptible to future infections.

Dr. Brisson (Université de Montréal) studies the Whirly protein – need I say more?

Dr. Barry Honda (Simon Fraser University) uses Drosophila to help us better understand O-linked N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT), which has been implicated in a number of processes including insulin signaling, neurodegenerative disease and cellular stress response.

Dr. Zatorre (Université de Montréal) breaks down how our brain processes sound and suggests that it is similar to the visual system of our brain.

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Trends Update — DTC Genetic Testing: Survey of State Laws on False Advertising

B&W_DNA_sequenceOne aspect of direct-to-consumer genetic testing that requires particular vigilance is the “consumer” aspect.  We should expect that as the underlying technology becomes cheaper and testing companies proliferate, there will be more who prey on insecurity and health fears to make a quick buck while providing little value (or worse, missing genuine concerns).

GenomeWeb Daily News today notes a survey of state “false advertising” laws (pdf) conducted by Anya Prince, a student with the Georgetown University Law Center’s Harrison Institute for Public Law.  At the moment, the survey reports, there are no state laws specific to genetic testing.  However, the survey does identify various generic false advertising laws that could apply if DTC providers make false or misleading claims.  As GenomeWeb notes, the Federal Trade Commission has already shown an interest in policing the area.  Together with the CDC, they put out a flyer in July 2006 on DTC genetic tests for consumers, advising that the tests are only truly valuable if interpreted by a doctor or trained counselor.

Some skeptics note that the value of tests for genetic predispositions is minimal.  Even without a genetic test, we know that if we want to avoid heart disease we should eat well and exercise.

Similarly, even without specific laws aimed at genetic shenanigans, we already know that providers who want to avoid liability should, in their literature and in their contracts, be honest with their customers about what the results do and do not mean.

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TBI Mentorship Program Announced

TBIMentorshipLogoI’ve been working on the committee developing a new mentorship program for life sciences professionals in Ontario.  The formal launch will coincide with National Biotechnology Week in September.  Here’s the blurb:

The TBI Mentorship program is designed for science and business professionals at any stage in their career. It provides ongoing opportunities for career and skills development, and addresses one of the most pressing needs faced by the industry. The program matches people based on interests of proteges and industry experience of mentors to facilitate a good fit between the mentoring partners. The TBI Mentorship program allows mentors and proteges to define their goals and expectations, while providing tools, resources and training conducive to a meaningful mentoring experience.

The PwC report released in April cited “access to an experienced talent pool” as one of the most critical factors influencing the success of the Canadian life sciences and biotechnology industry, so we need as much involvement as possible. We’re accepting pre-registrations now.

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Q3 Is Looking Up for Biotech: Emdeon, Cumberland, Domain, LOM BioQuest, OETF

light at the end of the tunnel smallThis week has seen a continued upswing for biotech and other health industry companies in the U.S. (with two IPOs) and in Canada (with great VC news and the pending appointment of an administrator for the Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund):

In the U.S.

Here in Canada

In the pipeline

With personalized medicine seeing increasing validation as a clinical strategy, genomics technology will be key.  News this week from Helicos Biosciences that an individual’s complete genome was sequenced in one month for just $50k in consumables is an important marker (har) on the road to regular full-genome scans as part of our medical toolkit.

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Cumberland Ends Bio IPO Drought But Prices Under Range. Next Up, Emdeon.

Cumberland Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CPIX) raised $85 million in its IPO today, pricing at $17 per share.  This was less than the $19-21 per share range, but since it’s the first bio IPO since November 2007 we won’t complain.

The company is planning to use the proceeds to buy late-stage or approved therapies for acute care and gastroenterology to go along with their existing approved products – Caldolor, an IV form of ibuprofen, and Acetadote, which treats acetaminophen overdose.

The WSJ Health Blog notes that Cumberland is the first of two planned healthcare IPOs this week.  Stay tuned for Emdeon, an electronic medical-billing systems company that is looking for over $330 million tomorrow.

Trends Update — “Personalized Effectiveness”: Amgen Gets Prospective Data to Back KRAS-Vectibix Plan

B&W_DNA_sequenceA few weeks ago, when the FDA changed the labeling on anti-EGFR drugs, Amgen was pretty enthusiastic about “avoiding unnecessary treatments in patients [with a specific genetic marker] who are unlikely to benefit” from Vectibix.  Avoiding these patients leaves more reimbursement available for patients who would benefit from Amgen’s product.

Now Amgen has even better data to support its personalized approach to colorectal cancer treatment: their study of Vectibix as a first-line treatment tracked the KRAS genetic status of participants and showed “significantly prolonged progression-free survival” for the wt-KRAS group.

In patients with mutated KRAS, Vectibix wasn’t just “unnecessary,” it actually showed worse outcomes than the control group, meaning genetic testing of all colorectal cancer patients will be a top priority.

A second important note for companies thinking about companion diagnostics and personalized effectiveness is that the Amgen study was a prospective study that will support much more robust conclusions.  H/T @ldtimmerman.

In contrast, recall that the CMS decision not to reimburse genetic testing for Warfarin dosing specifically cited the lack of prospective data on which to base a decision.

This new data from Amgen will:

  1. Drive tumor genotyping as a standard of care; and
  2. Help make the economic case for companion diagnostics.

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Monday Deal Review: August 10, 2009

B&W_BigNickelConsidering last week was abbreviated for the August long weekend here in Canada, there’s a decent amount of activity to run through.  Check out this week’s deals after the jump…

This Week in the Twitterverse: August 8, 2009

twitter_logo_headerSince I’ve been using Twitter to note short but interesting items that don’t require a whole blog post, I thought I’d post a re-cap of the week’s Tweets.  So, for those who aren’t on Twitter and haven’t been reading the @crossborderbio feed in the column to your right (or who read the blog by RSS), here’s what you missed:

  • Big confirmations day in the U.S. Senate: Sotomayor (S.Ct.), Collins (NIH) and Kappos (USPTO) in one fell swoop http://tr.im/vWan
  • Things are looking up when … biotech bankers and analysts have job options! Some movement in Toronto: http://tr.im/vUVG
  • First EU guidelines for growing GM plants for pharming published, get positive initial reviews, says Nature http://tr.im/vT0e
  • Today’s Canadian science = tomorrow’s Canadian start-ups. Check this week’s Friday Science Review on the blog: http://tr.im/vS3W Go Richard!
  • New blog post analyzing Q2 VC investment numbers for Canadian biotechs – bad, but Q3 is already better http://tr.im/vPci H/T @startupcfo
  • OncoGenex goes it alone, sells $9.5 mm of straight equity and net $9.4, ISO for Phase III http://tr.im/vNz9 H/T @ldtimmerman @FierceBiotech
  • Another cancer personalized medicine success for DxS: AZ partnership for Iressa http://tr.im/vGya after BI & Amgen deals http://tr.im/vGyO
  • Saskatchewan proposes new isotope reactor as part of nation-wide expressions of interest for Nov. 30 report http://tr.im/vGvI
  • RT @gw_dailyscan: GI Bill and More Scientists: President Obama says this GI Bill, like the last, may lead .. http://bit.ly/15Xwop
  • New Blog post: What makes MIT so good at entrepreneurship: http://tr.im/vtwD
  • Adaltis Inc. (TSX: $ADS) files for liquidation under BIA http://tr.im/vrVv follows July’s CCAA filing noted on the blog http://tr.im/vrWb
  • For anyone thinking of not vaccinating their kids… RT @drval: NewPost: Dr. Sears Cashes In On Vaccine Fears http://bit.ly/EiyMd
  • Canadian Science Policy Conference speaker list grows. Oct 28-30. Res Forum Blog >> http://tr.im/vres CSPC web >> http://sciencepolicy.ca/
  • H/T @FierceBiotech: Lilly Ventures has spun out of Eli Lilly with $200M, WSJ says it’s more “Ventures” less “Lilly” http://is.gd/2253B
  • Another environmentally friendly application of genetically-modified plants: lure nematodes, use less pesticide: http://tr.im/vonO
  • I will! RT @drval: Everyone check out @scotthensley ‘s new health blog at NPR: http://bit.ly/2k045X <– Hope you’ll blogroll
  • Old SBIR extended (again) to Sept 30 as conference committee fails to reconcile House and Senate bills before recess http://tr.im/vhKW
  • Just now getting caffeinated this morning… RT @fodden: RT @slaw_dot_ca Civic Holiday Today >> Slaw http://bit.ly/BfSGa
  • Isotope shortage in Canada not affecting patients as much as expected, but costing hospitals a lot for alternate supply http://tr.im/v0Qq

A Big Week for Confirmations: Sotomayor, Collins, Kappos Movin’ on Up

Q2 Venture Capital Numbers Do Not Look So Rosy in Canada

world_map_2002When Q2′s venture capital investment numbers came out for U.S. investment, healthcare/biotech investments were on top, beating out even IT investments in that period and generating some optimism.

Dow Jones has released the worldwide Q2 venture capital numbers (H/T @startupcfo, and things do not look so rosy here in Canada:

  • The overall number of VC deals in 1H 2009 Canada was off 30% from 2008 levels, and the average raise was down as well, resulting in a nearly 50% drop in total investment from 2008 levels. That’s over $130 million less invested in 2009.
  • Unlike in the U.S., there was no silver lining for biotech in Canada.  Whereas IT investment was about 1/3 off its 2008 levels, healthcare/bio was off a whopping 62%, raising only $18 million total in the first 6 months of 2009!

One caveat is that things are not quite as bad as they seem on the biotech front, since quarter-to-quarter volatility is normally very high.  In fact, Allostera closed a $17 million A round in July which practically doubles the YTD number from 1H levels, and I don’t expect we’ve seen the end of Q3 biotech VC activity.

Bottom Line: Even if a few banner deals pull the statistics up for Q3, BIOTECanada’s numbers will not improve without OVCF, OETF and Teralys making some sustained commitments to the biotech sector.  No time like the present, folks.

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Trends Update — Electronic Medical Records: President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Meeting on Health IT

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is meeting now.  The meeting is broadcast live online at  http://tr.im/vK3G.

They just finished introductions.  Eric Schimidt, Eric Lander and Harold Varmus are there, among other luminaries.  100% in-person attendance.

“21 members include 4 winners of MacArthur ‘genius’ awards, 3 Nobel laureates, 2 university presidents, as well as 16 members of one or more of the U.S. national academies of science, engineering, and medicine.”

Trends Update — Electronic Medical Records: Salesforce.com Clouds the EMR Field

floppy-disk1The WSJ Health Blog notes today that Salesforce.com’s investment in Practice Fusion, though not a large financial investment, follows an appealing trend in the EMR space.  Both Salesforce.com and Practice Fusion are cloud computing plays (aka hosted services / ASP) where software and data live on company servers rather than on local PCs in doctors’ offices. This will be particularly attractive for smaller practices without their own IT capabilities.

We’ve been following the world of electronic medical records, which has attracted billions of dollars in U.S. stimulus money and over $400 million in Canada, and have been keeping track of notable implementation successes and privacy challenges.

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What Makes MIT So Good at Entrepreneurship

I joined the NCET2 webinar of Edward Roberts’ presentation last week — “Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT” — to see what I could glean for Toronto’s benefit as we work toward creating a more entreprenuerial environment on University Ave. 

The webinar homepage has the audio of the talk and a link to the slides.

Some of the most interesting bits to me were:

  1. Literal tech transfer is a very small part of the innovation ecosystem:  although 30 startup firms got licenses from the MIT tech licensing office (TLO) in 2000, over 1,000 companies were started up by MIT alumni that year.
  2. The benefit of immigration: “~30% of foreign‐student alumni become entrepreneurs vs. ~20% of U.S.‐born alumni; half of the foreign‐student entrepreneurs remain in the U.S.” Roberts suggests a selection bias (the act of emigrating for school is itself entrepreneurial), but the take-away remains that these immigrants are good at creating jobs and we should encourage as many as possible to stay.
  3. Suggestions for other institutions:
    • Institutional leadership and senior role models are required.
    • Remove barriers to entrepreneurship in rules and regs.
    • Consider supplemental incubator resources or even seed funding directly from universities.
    • Engage alumni.
    • Build internal entrepreneurship education programs, with integrated academic and practitioner faculty participants.
    • Hold business plan competitions.
    • Realign tech transfer offices: fewer lawyers, more project managers.*
  4. The value of VC alumni — although it’s not what you might expect — data from China suggest that connections will get a meeting with VCs but will not affect investment decisions.

*Note: A slip of the tongue, or an easy scapegoat: as Roberts no doubt knows, the best lawyers are excellent project managers.

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