The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

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

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ontario’s New Life Sciences Commercialization Strategy Announced by Minister of Research and Innovation John Milloy

At a press conference in London today, Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation, John Milloy, is scheduled to announce the Province’s new $161 million Life Sciences Commercialization Strategy.

The bulk of the money ($114 million) is allocated to the Global Leadership Round in Genomics & Life Sciences (GL2), though $100 million of that was announced last year. Recent announcements under this program include $8.1 million for the International Barcode of Life Project, an $8.8 million grant to SickKids for autism genomics research, and $24.8 million to a posse of University of Toronto genomics researchers.

Of the remaining new money:

 The Ministry is also planning to:

  • Build out investontario.com, and
  • Initiate a Life Sciences Partnership Council to facilitate inter-ministry communication with industry

Other than the shut-down of BIP (not before a last hurrah), no program changes are being made right now.  OETF, OVCF and OITC will continue in their current form.

Here’s a link to the full strategy document (pdf).

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Friday Science Review: April 30, 2010

Maybe these primary research projects will lead to the next great “Dendreon” story…

Mirror-rorriM Movement Disorder: Defects in the proper connections between the left and right sides of the brain can lead to involuntary movements where one side of the body follows or mirrors the movement of the other side.  A study of two families affected by inherited cases of mirror movements led to the identification of mutations in the DCC gene (Deleted in Colorectal Carcinoma).  DCC is a receptor for netrin-1, which is a factor that is important for guiding neural axons across the midline to make the proper left-right connections.  This is a key finding in understanding the complexities of how our brains are wired.  Dr. Guy Rouleau (Université de Montréal) and Dr. Frédéric Charron (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal) collaborated on the study and is published in the prestigious Science journal.

Improving RNA Therapeutics: RNA interference based therapeutics is gaining traction in the biotech world (eg. Tekmira, Alnylam, MDRNA).  Enhancing the potency of siRNA is the focus of this research study published in Nucleic Acids Research journal.  The technology uses a combination of DNA and RNA analogs to increase the stability of the siRNA agent against nucleases and helps them to evade immune responses that often limit their effectiveness.  Dr. Masad Damha led his group at McGill University.

Also in Montreal, Drs. François Major and Gerardo Ferbeyre (Université de Montréal) announced the launch of the first ribonucleic acid (RNA) engineering laboratory in Canada.  They are using bioinformatics and biochemistry to come up with designer microRNAs that can control the behaviour of RNAs to control or cure cancers.

New Tumour Suppressor:  A recent study demonstrates the tumour suppressor properties of the Cdh11 gene.  The first hint of this function arose from studies showing a frequent loss Cdh11 in retinoblastoma cancers.  Using a series of animal models to determine the role of Cdh11, Dr. Brenda Gallie’s team (Ontario Cancer Institute) demonstrated the tumour suppressor properties of Cdh11 through a mechanism promoting cell death or apoptosis.  The full text article appears online in PLoS Genetics.

Lung Cancer Drug Target: CXCR4 may be the next therapeutic target for treating lung cancer.  Its overexpression in about 10% of lung cancers is associated with poor patient outcome (2.7 vs. 6.1 months survival), likely due to CXCR4’s support for the rapid growth and metastasis of tumours.  On the brighter side, anti-CXCR4 drugs, which are already in existence for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, may be “fast tracked” for testing in lung cancer patients.  Dr. Gwyn Bebb, from the University of Calgary, presented her data recently at the 2nd European Lung Cancer Conference.

Biotech Trends at BIO 2010

As I’m preparing for the BIO conference in Chicago next week, I’m excited to see that several of the biotech trends we’ve been following on the blog are showing up as conference sessions.

  • Interested in “A New Kind of Non-Dilutive Financing and Fundraising: Partnering With Not-for-Profits”? Get an early start at our trends page on Commercialization by non-profit foundations!
  • Does “Comparative Effectiveness Research and the Government Role” or “Transforming Health Care Through Personalized Medicine” catch your eye? Check out the stories we’ve highlighted on Comparative Effectiveness and Personalized Medicine!
  • Of course, with the new regulatory pathway created by Health Reform legislation in the U.S., Follow-on Biologics (aka Biosimilars) are all the rage at BIO this year.
  • and the whole thing kicks off with Lilly’s General Counsel speaking on “Leveraging IP to Spur Global Biotechnology Innovation, Investment and Jobs” – emphsizing the link between IP Constituencies and Global Innovation that we have been following for some time.

Stay tuned for news from these and other sessions as we hit the conference next week!

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Monday Biotech Deal Review: April 26, 2010

This week’s deals are highlighted by a new TSX-V listed biotech, a $16 million D round, five collaborations a FedDev win for Bioniche, and updates on this month’s flurry of financings. Read more of this post

This Week in the Twitterverse

Here’s some reading for the weekend from our Twitter stream on @crossborderbio:

  • Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s Leaders Opportunity Fund supports 10 McGill researchers http://bit.ly/aRuStd for $1.7M
  • Medicago $MDG headed for the TSX big board (from the Venture exchange) http://bit.ly/cY68Dl Congratulations!
  • Genome Canada discloses planned allocation of $75m 2010 budget http://bit.ly/ccANNC
  • Canada’s drug spend hit $30b in 2009 (85% prescription,15% OTC), but rate of increase (5.1%) was the lowest in a decade http://bit.ly/blfWbR
  • Ontario is contributing $11.5m to Dr. Mick Bhatia’s lab at McMaster University for stem cell-based therapies http://bit.ly/a6dodA
  • Excellent post at the Genomics Law Report on the complexities of informed consent for genomic studies: http://bit.ly/96DAboh
  • Finishing the job of polio eradication worldwide is an ethical obligation! http://bit.ly/9BYTeR
  • cleantech with $ > biotech w/o RT @JohnCFierce: Alimera slashes its IPO price, Codexis delivers at low end of range… http://bit.ly/9z2m2q
  • Two very different and fun approaches to forward-looking information disclaimers noted in this post. Why be boring? http://bit.ly/96T5PO
  • Canada’s Gemin X picked up a $16 million Series D. http://bit.ly/9GgZpN
  • Updated Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki @ http://bit.ly/aCDtoI Great tool to find companies, patient communities, industry observers
  • Genomics Law Report gets an early start on DNA Day hosting Blawg Review http://bit.ly/aPDmk1 & Scientia Pro Publica http://bit.ly/dmpOSs 
  • WSJ VC Blog looks at share of VC investment by industry since 2001 – decline of IT is the primary trend http://bit.ly/cSBNGr
  • Biomarker breakthrough highlights potential of adaptive trials. http://is.gd/bzuqb 
  • Bioniche Receives $750,000 from FedDev for Fermentation Scale-Up for New Vaccine Manufacturing Centre
  • Experts share tips for developing drugs using a virtual model. http://is.gd/bzlZA << good clinical trial CRO plan advice 
  • Vineland Research and Innovation Centre collaborates with Raytheon on radiowave prototype to protect crops from frost http://bit.ly/9JRfMr 
  • Ten Types of Hair on Early-Stage Deals http://bit.ly/9M8sos

Friday Science Review: April 23, 2010

Iron Man 2: Actually, this is about IRP2 – Iron Regulatory Protein 2.  Ok, not quite as exciting as the superhero movie but it is interesting/unexpected that overexpression of IRP2 promotes cancer cell growth.  In contrast, the very similar IRP1 protein suppresses tumour growth.  The difference seems to lie within a 73 amino acid sequence in IRP2 that is required for its growth promoting properties.  It is a long stretch to try to make any link between iron intake and cancer based on this preliminary study but it does warrant further research to understand the roles of IRP1 and IRP2.  Dr. Kostas Pantopoulos (McGill University) published his study in PLoS One.

Not All Herpes are the Same: There are many different strains of herpes viruses, each with slightly different properties and responses to drugs.  Human herpesvirus 6A and 6B (HHV-6A, HHV-6B) variants are prime examples of this.  Classic anti-viral drugs based on type 1 Interferon (IFN) are effective against HHV-6A infected cells but not cells infected with HHV-6B.  Dr. Louis Flamand’s group at Université Laval’s Centre de Recherche en Rhumatologie et Immunologie (CRRI) worked out some of the molecular details explaining this difference.    They mapped a 41 amino acid region in the IE1 protein that is present only in the HHV-6B strain, which acts to block any further genetic responses to the IFN drugs.  These small differences between herpes strains make it difficult to effectively treat infected patients but research such as this one are very important to identify how to better target each specific strain.  The study is reported in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hippos are Your (Kidney’s) Friend: Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is a common genetic disease affecting an estimated 12.5 million people worldwide and is the forth leading cause of kidney failure.  Researchers are unraveling the key molecular players involved in PKD.  In this study, Dr. Liliana Attisano’s team (University of Toronto) took a closer look at the Hippo pathway and identified a new function for the transcriptional activator, TAZ. TAZ modulates the beta-Catenin/Wnt signalling pathway, which is important in development and morphogenetic events.  Mouse knockouts that do not express TAZ develop polycystic kidneys and demonstrate the role that these pathways play in kidney disease.  This study is reported in the latest edition of Developmental Cell.

Ovarian Cancer Cells Avoid Death: Researchers studying ovarian cancer determined the mechanism by which ovarian cancer cells thrive.  The sequence goes like this:  ovarian cancer ascites triggers an adhesion protein called alphavbeta5 integrin; this activates FAK phosphorylation and correlates with Akt activation; the Akt pathway inhibits the molecular events leading to cell death or apoptosis.  Thus, ovarian ascites confers protection against cell death.  This study reveals some possible key target points for therapeutic intervention in the treatment of ovarian cancer.  Dr. Alain Piche at the Université de Sherbrooke describes his work in the journal Oncogene.

Canadian Flax Growers Plan a Roundup Resistant Strain That May Also Resist EU’s GM Resistance In New $5.5m Collaboration with Cibus Global

Canada, the world’s largest flax producer, is looking to maintain its dominance. Growers want the economic advantages of a roundup-resistant variety without jeopardizing sales into the European Union. The E.U. accounts for 60% of Canadian flax exports, but genetically-modified crops face continued resistance in many E.U. countries.

The solution may be generated by a collaboration announced yesterday between the Flax Council of Canada and San Diego company Cibus Global.

According to an article in Xconomy San Diego today, the Flax Council is “investing about $5.5 million” to develop a new strain of Flax using Cibus’ Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS).

Cibus’ technology is a targeted mutagenesis approach that “harnesses the natural DNA repair system in plant cells.” According to the Flax Council’s press release, the technology is exempted under the E.U. Directive on GMOs and is classified as “non-transgenic” by the USDA.  Of course, regulatory compliance in the E.U. does not guarantee political or commercial success.

Two interesting take-aways from a commercialization perspective:

  1. $4 million of the $5.5 million paying for the Flax Council’s half of the project comes from the Canadian Government’s Developing Innovative Agri-Products program (DIAP).  It is unusual for federally-funded development programs to flow so readily to projects executed outside the country. 
  2. Revenues from developed products would be split between the Flax Council and Cibus.

The project aims to bear fruit generate a commercial seed product by 2015.

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Health Canada’s Statistics on Patent Listings and Generics Litigation

In Canada, Under the PM(NOC) Regulations, the Minister of Health maintains a Patent Register (the analog to the U.S. Orange Book).  Health Canada collects statistics on patent listings and litigation, and Ogilvy Renault’s Life Sciences team recently put out a bulletin summarizing some of the data.  A few highlights:

  • Out of 248 applicable generic drug submissions, the generic manufacturer obtained the consent of the patent owner to market its product in Canada prior to patent expiry in only 1% of cases; and in 47% of cases the generic manufacturer intended to challenge the listed patent(s).
  • In litigated cases, generic manufacturers were successful in 67% of all decided cases, and the brand manufacturer / patent owner was successful in the remaining 33% of cases.
  • 495 different medicines are currently listed on the Patent Register.  49% of these products have one patent listed on the Register (by DIN).  23% have two patents on the Register.  43% of products have three or more patents on the Register.  One product has 22 patents listed on the Register.

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Biotech Trends Update — Commercialization by Foundations: Lymphoma and Leukaemia Society’s Preclinical Program Has Advantages for Companies

In my first post noting the trend of non-profit foundations stepping in to support commercial projects, I held out the  Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS)’s Therapy Acceleration Program as a key example.

LLS recently made another investment from that program, giving $3.2 million to get Avila Therapeutics’ AVL-292 into trials for B-cell cancers (pdf).  In writing about this trend originally, I had emphasized the value for the recipeint companies of a non-dilutive investment in a difficult funding environment; but John Carroll’s article at FierceBiotech on the LLS-Avila deal notes another key advantage of these collaborations:

“The LLS offers a developer like Avila other strategic advantages, says [Avila’s CEO Katrine] Bosley. The society doesn’t just support patients, it also has ‘a network of relationships with clinical investigators.’ The LLS can help make introductions between the biotech and the investigators who can provide important insights on clinical trial protocols.”

The advantage for LLS? As Louis DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS’s chief mission officer, says:

“Last year we had three partnerships, each of which triggered a clinical trial of an agent that would not have been tested in blood cancers if not for our dollars.”

A win-win situation that you can expect to see more of.

Monday Biotech Deal Review: April 19, 2010

This week’s deals are headlined by Æterna Zentaris’ $15 million placement (on the back of positive regulatory news over the last couple of weeks). Æterna Zentaris’ is joined by a passel of other private placements, but not much else.  As a bonus for a slow deal week, though, we’ll throw in a name change and a Parkinsons research funding win!

Read more of this post

This Week in the Twitterverse

Here’s some reading for the weekend in case you missed these items the first time around on @crossborderbio:

Friday Science Review: April 16, 2010

An amazing week of Canadian research advancements…

Cancer Genome Project is Well Underway: The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), who is leading the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), published a report this week in Nature outlining the international effort to sequence 25,000 cancer genomes – 500 genomes from each of the 50 most common cancers such as breast, colon, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers.  Some partial datasets are already available to the global research community at www.icgc.org.  This is truly a Herculean effort that is only possible because of the international collaborative effort of over 200 members around the globe.  Whole cancer genome sequencing will provide a fundamental base to advance personalized medicine to the next level.  Here is the original OICR press release and you can read a more comprehensive ‘Scientific American’ style news feature article on the cancer genome project here in the same issue of Nature.

Seek and Destory: Non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer is taking a big hit from a newly discovered compound that destroys lymphoma cells.  The small molecule compound targets and blocks a transcription factor called BCL6, which is responsible for half of non-Hodgkins lymphoma cases.  Scientists started with the 3D structure of the BCL6 protein and used computer-aided drug design to perform in silico screening of over a million compounds.  They eventually narrowed it down to this one compound that proved to be efficacious and also non-toxic.  Dr. Gilbert Prive at the University Health Network led the innovative project that demonstrates the success of a computational approach to drug design and the ability to target transcriptions factors with minimal side effects.  Read all about it! – in the free full text article in Cancer Cell.

Divide and Conquer: Cell division is a complicated process with the synchronized dance of chromosomes segregating to each new cell.  It is a poorly understood process but research is this field is advancing with the discovery of new essential proteins involved in cell divisionDr. Laurence Pelletier (Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute) and his collaborators in Europe used a combination of RNAi tools and mass spectrometry techniques to identify the components of protein complexes involved in cell division.  As cancer cells are hyperactive dividing cells, this new information will also aid in the advancement of cancer targeting therapeutics.  The study appears in the journal Science.

The Missing Link: Many have suspected that there must be some link or relationship between stress, anxiety and depression.  Now there is molecular evidence that this is true.  The connection involves the interaction between corticotropin releasing factor receptor 1 (CRFR1) and certain types of serotonin receptors (5-HTRs).  CRFR1 activity leads to stress related anxiety and it also stimulates an increase in the number of 5-HTRs in the brain, which can lead to signaling abnormalities causing depression.  The team headed by Dr. Stephen Ferguson at the University of Western Ontario also developed a small molecule inhibitor that blocks 5-HTRs.  Let’s hope this inhibitor and knowledge of the molecular links lead to more effective treatments for these disorders.  Check out the free full-text article in Nature Neuroscience.

Smart Buggers:  Understanding how bacteria become resistant to last-resort antibiotic drugs just got a boost from a McMaster University study.  Vancomycin resistant methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (VMRSA), also known as the hospital superbug, is a rapidly growing problem with limited effective solutions.  The research team identified the histidine kinase VanSsc protein as the direct vancomycin detector in bacteria, which then triggers the expression of three genes that provide the drug resistance.  This is the first important step in redesigning antibiotic drugs to effectively fight these little buggers.   Dr. Gerry Wright and his collaborators published their exciting work in Nature Chemical Biology.

Not Just a Bad Golf Shot: Scientists have identified mutations in the SHANK3 gene that are associated with schizophrenia.  SHANK3 is a scaffolding protein involved in the formation of the synapse and maintains the structure of nerve cells.  Dr. Guy Rouleau’s team at the Université de Montréal discovered the new mutations (R1117X and R536W) in two families with schizophrenia patients where one of these families had three affected brothers.  Further molecular and genetic studies in zebrafish models confirmed that the R1117X mutation causes behavioural defects.  Earlier studies linked SHANK3 mutations to autism, which suggests that there is a molecular connection between the two neurological disorders.  The findings are reported in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gene Therapy is Still Alive: The promise of gene therapeutics to cure diseases may not have lived up to the hype presented a decade ago but there are still some hopeful successes using gene therapy.  One recent example comes from Laval University where researchers repaired the defective dystrophin gene responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In some cases of DMD, the dystrophin gene is misread causing a frame-shift mutation.  These frame-shift mutations may be targeted and repaired by enzymes called meganucleases.  A proof-of-principle project by Dr. Jacques Tremblay demonstrated that expression of specific meganucleases in the muscle of a DMD mouse model can restore the normal reading frame of a mutated dystrophin gene.  More details in this week’s edition of Gene Therapy.

Biotech Trends Update — Social Media for Biotechs: Building Momentum Toward Critical Mass

In December, I wrote a post listing the top 3 reasons biotech companies should use social media and noted that we would be following adoption and use of social media by biotechs as one of our Trends in 2010.

The 2010 Dose of Digital Dosie Awards held voting for finalists this week, including for Best Facebook Page, Best YouTube Channel, Best Twitter Feed and Best Blog (in a number of categories).  The pharma and healthcare social media wiki that Dose of Digital maintains is a growing list, but still doesn’t include very many biotech companies. 

So, why haven’t we seen more social media among biotechs? 

Is it fear of FDA admonishment?  This blog post/video clip from Future of Pharma spends some time blaming the FDA’s evolving social media policy.  If the FDA were the problem, though, pharma companies wouldn’t be moving into social networking either.  But they are.

Is it fear of creating reporting obligations because of casual mentions of adverse events?  Looking at one community shows that a significant number of reportable adverse events could be unearthed; but Dose of Digital doesn’t view this as a risk or an excuse for avoiding social media, and explains why here.

The real answer is simpler: the value of a social network is the network.  Until a critical mass of biotechs seed a social media presence, most other companies will not realize sufficient value in being online themselves.

The critical mass is starting to build: Michael Gilman, the Founder/CEO of Stromedix is on Twitter, as is Richard Pops, the CEO of Alkermes.  On Twitter, they interact with investors, journalists and patient communities; which points out that it’s not just a critical mass of other biotechs that creates social media value. 

For example, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is running a series of ads on Facebook to recruit patients to its trials; one of their sites is using Craigslist and individual patients are reporting about their experiences with the trials on blogs and on Facebook.  The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the McGill University Health Centre are also using social media for outreach.

My bottom line: social media will be an increasingly common tool for biotech companies in business development, corporate communications, patient recruitment and for employee recruitment and development.  The sooner you start the more expertise you’ll have.

Monday Biotech Deal Review: April 12, 2010

This week deals are back in full force, despite the fact that Tengion’s IPO was less popular than expected and Neovacs scaled back its planned IPO.  Highlights include Patheon raising $280 million from its note placement, Verio Therapeutics getting phagocytosed by Fate (but remaining in Ottawa) and Lorus Therapeutics’ F-1 filing for a $17.5 million unit offering. Read more of this post

2010 Gairdner Award Winners Announced

This year’s Gairdner Award winners were announced this week.  The Gairdners are a fantastic Canadian contribution to the world of medical research, with seventy-three Gairdner winners over the past 50 years also becoming Nobel laureates.  Here is this year’s batch:

The Gairdner International Award winners:

  • William A. Catterall Ph.D., Department of Pharmacology, University of Washington Seattle, “for discovery of the voltage-gated sodium channel and calcium channel proteins and the elucidation  of their function and regulation.”
  • Pierre Chambon M.D., Institut de genetique et de biologie moleculaire et cellulaire, France, “for the elucidation of fundamental mechanisms of transcription in animal cells and to the discovery of the nuclear receptor superfamily.”
  • William G. Kaelin Jr. M.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute,  Peter J. Ratcliffe M.D., University of Oxford, and Gregg L. Semenza M.D., Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, each “for identification of molecular mechanisms of oxygen sensing in the cell

The Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science, will be given to Cal Stiller C.M., O.Ont., M.D.,  Professor Emeritus, University Western Ontario & Chair, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research “for his pioneering work in transplantation and diabetes, and as a remarkable entrepreneur  and builder of  private and public institutions that have greatly enriched the research landscape of  Canada.”

The Global Health Award, in its second year at the Gairdners, will go to Nicholas White, M.D. D.Sc., Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Bangkok “for his definitive clinical studies on the effectiveness of artemesinins in the treatment of malaria and elucidating the basis for the use of ACT to prevent resistance.”

Congratulations to all the winners!

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This Week in the Twitterverse

Here’s some reading for the weekend in case you missed them the first time around on @crossborderbio:

Friday Science Review: April 9, 2010

New fixes for diabetes, HIV, and nerve damage…

Nano-Vaccine Cures Diabetes: To prevent the immune system from attacking pancreatic cells in Type 1 diabetes, a nanotechnology based “vaccine” was used successfully to stop the disease in mice.  The strategy involves nanoparticles that are coated with diabetes specific peptides and bound to MHC molecules. When injected into the body, they stimulate regulatory T cells – the “friendly” T cells that prevent the “bad” T cells from destroying the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.  The advantage of this method is that it is specific to the ‘diabetes T cells’ and there are no negative effects on the rest of the immune system.  Other autoimmune diseases may also benefit from a nanoparticle vaccine approach.  Dr. Pere Santamaria’s team at the University of Calgary describes their work in the online edition of Immunity and has licensed this innovative technology to Parvus Therapeutics, Inc., a U of C spin-off company.

Allowing Neural Regeneration: The p75NTR receptor is important for the development of the nervous system during childhood.  A new research study published in Nature Neuroscience describes an inhibitory effect of p75 neurotrophin receptors (p75NTR) in the adult nervous system.  Not only does it prevent adult nerve cells from regenerating, it actively destroys axons as necessary if any aberrant connections try to form.  This monitoring system is likely skewed in neurological diseases or disorders.  Thus, further molecular information surrounding p75NTR in the nervous system can lead to developing strategies to facilitate nerve regeneration to occur or prevent degenerative disorders.  Dr. Freda Miller and her team conducted the research at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

HIV’s Secret Weapon Revealed: The discovery of how the viral protein called Vpu facilitates HIV-1 proliferation in a host may present opportunities to block this pathway with a small molecule inhibitor.  Vpu binds to and blocks Tetherin, a natural antiviral protein on the cell surface that can sense and capture the virus and prevent production and further transmission of HIV-1.  HIV-1 has evolved with Vpu as its weapon to impede Tetherin from reaching the cell surface where it acts to tether viruses.  Now it is time for scientists to outsmart the virus and find a method to block Vpu.  Dr. Éric A. Cohen directed his team at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal and reports the study in this week’s PLoS Pathogens journal.

Cell-Cell Krazy Glue: The integrity of cell-cell contacts is important for the maintenance of the epithelial cell layer and aberrations may contribute to disease progression such as in cancer metastasis.   Two proteins involved in this cell-cell adhesion are p120 catenin and E-cadherin.  Dr. Mitsuhiko Ikura at the Ontario Cancer Institute performed NMR structural studies to provide a detailed map and understanding of the protein-protein interaction between catenin and cadherin.  The detailed study, published in the journal Cell, describe both dynamic and static interactions that contribute to the stability of the adhesion interaction between cells.

Bring out the Bazooka: Following the article above on the epithelial cell layer, this study examines a protein called Bazooka (Par3 in mammalian cells) in fruit flies.  It is expressed on epithelial cells and acts a protein interaction hub to regulate the integrity of the epithelial structure.  Using a series of gene mutants, gene mapping and bioinformatics techniques, researchers identified up to 17 genes that associate with Bazooka to regulate epithelial structure, many of these are novel interactions with Bazooka.  Further study is necessary to determine how they work together and how this translates to human tissues.  The list of genes is available in the article online in PLoS One journal and was reported by lead researcher Dr. Tony Harris at the University of Toronto.

Comparative Effectiveness and Personalized Medicine are “Part of the Same Question” Collins Confirms

In a very informative Kaiser Health News interview (via GenomeWeb), Francis Collins says that

“personalized medicine strategy and CER strategy are part of the same question. … There will often be more than one therapeutic intervention, so you have to compare them. But you also want to know what’s different about the individual that might have an influence on that answer.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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State of the Biotech Industry — Heading into BioFinance

As the BioFinance conference in Toronto starts up today, I thought it would be worth looking at a few recent data points for the biotech industry:

  • The Q1 Burrill data (via PharmPro) shows above-market gains for public biotechs (up 8% in Q1), $6.1 billion of pharma partnering deals were done, and total biotech VC investments were up 7% in Q1 (over Q4 ’09) though follow-on VC rounds were down 52%.
  • Regenerative medicine company Tengion Inc. is heading for an IPO this week, aiming (low, says John Carroll) for 4.4 million shares at $8 to $10 apiece, with current stockholders taking about $15 million of the offering.  Watch this one for a good barometer of what a clinical stage biotech (lead product in Phase II) can aspire to.
  • Public investment is still running strong in many jurisdictions as well.  Ontario is waiting to learn how MRI’s new money will be spent; Palm Beach Gardens in Florida is setting aside 681 acres for a biotech park; and the Washington DC region continues to invest in its strong cluster, including a new tax law in Virginia that “creates a three-year window under which entrepreneurs and investors can start and invest in early stage technology companies in Virginia without having to pay any long-term capital gains taxes on the returns those companies generate.”

Stay tuned here and @crossborderbio on Twitter for updates from the conference.

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Monday Biotech Deal Review: April 5, 2010

The past week was consumed with religious holidays and summer weather, and also with year-end earnings announcements, so there was less deal activity than usual.  Still, there’s about $500 million of goodies to check out after the jump, thanks mostly to MDS and its delightful Dutch auction. Read more of this post

This Week in the Twitterverse

It was a quiet week on the blog (confluence of holidays), but here are some good tidbits to catch up on over the weekend in case you missed them the first time around on @crossborderbio:

Top 5 Reasons the Myriad Genetics ALCU Patent Ruling Is Not a Big Deal

Right in the middle of Passover, Judge Robert W. “Let my Patents Go” Sweet released his 152-page ruling (pdf), granting summary judgement to the ACLU and invalidating several of Myriad Genetics’ patents on the sequence and use of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  It was greeted by some as the 11th plague, and by others as a national liberation; but the truth is it was neither.

Here are the top 5 reasons the ruling is not a big deal:

  1. The business model is changing.  Genomics Law Report (as part of a great series on the Myriad decision) quotes the New York Times and references the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society (SACGHS) report (pdf) all pointing out the fact that multi-gene tests and whole genome sequencing are becoming much more common diagnostic tools than those along the lines of Myriad’s BRACAnalysis(R) test.
  2. The market says so.  As the New York Times reports, “two major [biotech] indexes … [fell] by less than 1 percent each.”  Part of the reason for this is averaging — many companies benefit if the gene patent anticommons takes a permanent hit — but even Myriad shareholders weren’t too phased.  The shares dropped less than 5% on the news and are back up 1.5% today. 
  3. Diagnostics like Myriad’s may not need patent protection to promote innovation.  Although there are many areas of biotechnology in which patent protection is a crucial incentive, the New York Times quotes James P. Evans, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, who says: “one does not need gene patents in order to see robust development of these tests.”  BIO disagrees.
  4. “The Federal Circuit is likely to reverse this decision.” Dennis Crouch at Patently-O puts it succinctly.  The case may one day lead to “an important Supreme Court showdown,” but that day is not today.
  5. The patents in suit, and many similar patents, may well expire before the case is finally adjudicated.

Keep following the case, though.  It has many people thinking hard about DNA, genomics and innovation, including commentators and judges; and that’s never a bad thing.

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