The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

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

Monthly Archives: September 2009

This Week in the Twitterverse

Some interesting items you may have missed if you weren’t following the Twitter stream this week:

  1. RT: @chrisarsenault Good news always welcomed! RT @markrmcqueen: RBC: Canada unexpectedly adds 27,100 jobs … Expectation was -15,0009:23 AM Sep 4th from TwitterBerry
  2. Changing of the guard at Akela Pharma $AKL following Nventa merger PM Sep 2nd from TweetDeck
  3. $50m to BDC for Southern Ontario. $35m direct, $15m for VCs. Will “collaborate” with OVCF via @startupnorth @markmcqueen5:46 PM Sep 2nd from TweetDeck
  4. Requiem for BioMS-Lilly… Agreement terminated following halted trials in July PM Sep 2nd from TweetDeck
  5. RT @IAmBiotech: Building a biotech hub – the keys to North Carolina’s success #biotech8:28 PM Sep 1st from TweetDeck
  6. RT @drval @ahier I still think the Lone Ranger is on the way health reform is not dead yet <–Nice summary of gang of 6.8:18 PM Sep 1st from TweetDeck
  7. Interesting from Nature News on gene-synthesis and bio-security PM Aug 31st from TweetDeck
  8. Extreme capital efficiency at a medical device startup via the WSJ’s VC Blog PM Aug 31st from TweetDeck

Friday Science Review: September 4, 2009

Potential future therapeutic options…

Dabigatran versus Warfarin: Dabigatran (PRADAX®, Boehringer-Ingelheim) was compared with warfarin (a commonly used anti-coagulant) in a large scale study for the treatment of patients with atrial fibrillations.  The trial demonstrated that the group of patients taking the higher dose of Dabigatran had significantly reduced risk of stroke compared to patients on warfarin but with similar risk of hemorrhaging.  With a lower dose of Dabigatran, they achieved protection from strokes that was similar to that afforded patients using warfarin but with a significantly reduced risk of major bleeding.  Dabigatran is the first alternative therapy option to warfarin treatment showing efficacy and improved safety to patients.  The global study was headquartered out of Hamilton at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Science Centre and appears in this week’s The New England Journal of Medicine.

Drug combo for Bell Palsy: Combinatorial therapy may be a better treatment method to improve the facial paralysis symptom of Bell Palsy patients. In the study lead by Dr. John de Almeida at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, they compared the standard treatment with corticosteroids alone versus corticosteroids supplemented with antiviral drugs.  It is thought that a herpes infection is likely the cause of the disorder.  As the patients appeared to have experienced a slight incremental benefit from the combo therapy, the researchers will continue their study to provide a definitive answer.  The report was published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Key finds from studying protein structure:

  • The RAF family of proteins is an integral component of the RAS signaling module involved in cell growth, differentiation and survival.  This new structural study on BRAF revealed that its catalytic function is regulated by a “side-to-side” dimerization mode.  Interestingly, a mutation found in oncogenic versions of BRAF is located in this dimerization interface and promotes aberrant activation.  Surely, the side-to-side dimer interface of BRAF will be a potential target for therapeutic intervention against BRAF-dependent tumorigenesis.  This exciting research was lead by a collaborative effort between Dr. Frank Sicheri at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto and Dr. Marc Therrien at Université de Montréal and published in the early edition of Nature.
  • New insight into how bacteria can steal iron from its host was revealed through structural studies of the bacteria’s transferrin receptor.  The bacterial transferrin receptor binds to the host’s iron containing transferrin protein, extracts the iron and transports it across the membrane.  When they mutated a critical residue at the interface of this interaction, binding was completely abolished.  Perhaps these results from Dr. Anthony Schryvers’ research team at the University of Calgary will lead to future directions for antimicrobial therapeutics.  The study was published in the recent edition of Molecular Cell.

Nervous system development in today’s issue of Cell…

  • Researchers revealed how the neural-specific SR-related protein of 100 kDa (nSR100) is responsible for facilitating alternative transcript splicing specifically in the nervous system.  nSR100 is required for neural cell differentiation and contributes to the greater complexity of the vertebrate nervous system.  The research was lead by Dr. Benjamin Blencowe at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research.

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MDS Selling Its Analytical Technologies Business for $650 million, Intends to Sell Pharma Services Business Next

Yesterday, MDS Inc. (TSX: MDS; NYSE: MDZ) signed an agreement to sell its “analytical technologies” business to Danaher Corporation (NYSE: DHR) for $650 million cash.  Two major shareholders, collectively holding 23%, have signed voting support agreements supporting the sale.  The shareholders meeting is planned for October, with closing later in Q4.  Assets include 1,100 employees operating in 10 countries. Danaher will also purchase part of a mass spectrometry joint-venture partnership from Life Technologies Corporation, each purchase conditional on the closing of the other.

MDS’ strategic review was triggered in part by the Chalk River reactor shut-down.  It is also putting its “pharma services” business on the block, and in July it closed the sale of its Phase I-IV services business. If the sale of analytical technologies and pharma services go through, only the isotope business will be left. 

MDS “intends to return approximately $400 million to $450 million of the sale proceeds to its shareholders” and will presumably aim for a similar outcome from the pharma services sale.

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$50 million to BDC for Ontario Tech Investments, Will “Collaborate” With Ontario Venture Capital Fund

The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) is providing $50 million to BDC: $35 million for direct investments in “early-stage firms in Southern Ontario” and $15 million for LP investments in VC funds “focused on Ontario-based opportunities.”

Rather than relying [entirely?] on internal BDC resources, “as part of its decision-making process, the BDC will collaborate with the Ontario Venture Capital Fund.” 

Interesting, the $35 million of new BDC direct investment money will be almost double the OVCF direct investment money, since the OVCF is down to under $19 million for direct investments.

H/T to via @startupnorth, @markmcqueen.

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BioMS and Lilly Terminate Dirucotide Agreement

Not surprising, given the failure of the SPMS trial (etc.) in July, but Eli Lilly and BioMS have terminated their license and collaboration agreement, with “all commercial rights to dirucotide … returned to BioMS.”  No indication from the press release where BioMS is headed, just that they’re “completing [their] review of the additional dirucotide clinical data and assessing the strategic options available.”  Sigh.

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New York Times’ Brody Counsels DTC Genomics Caution

An article in yesterday’s New York Times calls direct-to-consumer genetic testing, a trend we are following on this blog, “fraught with potential dangers.”  Although our original post on the subject discussed many of the regulatory and ethical issues around DTC genomics, Brody’s article raises some interesting additional points:

  • The risk of false reassurance: “a man told he lacks genes linked to an elevated risk of heart disease might decide to smoke, eat lots of salt and saturated fats, avoid exercise or develop a large paunch.”
  • The article also notes privacy risks, citing Lori Andrews’ comments that “[s]ome companies are just a front end for biotech companies that use it for research.”

Brody is reluctant to confer even a label of “relatively harmless” on the current technology, but the article will probably drive further awareness and additional interest.

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