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With $1B Pending, UMMS Preps for New RNAi Center

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Although Massachusetts’ proposed $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative was only just submitted for approval to the state’s legislature, the University of Massachusetts Medical School is already moving forward with a new RNAi research center that is expected to receive significant funding under the legislation, a UMMS official says.

According to UMMS Dean Terry Flotte, funding under the initiative isn’t expected to start becoming available until the fall at the earliest, but in the meantime, “we’re going to move forward with our own discretionary funding” as part of a temporary plan that includes hiring five to 10 new independent investigators focused on RNAi research.

The medical school has also begun putting together a search committee that will recruit a director for the planned RNAi research center with the goal of selecting a candidate by the spring of next year, he says.

In May, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced that he would submit a bill to the legislature requesting $1 billion over 10 years to grow the state’s life sciences sector. Part of that bill, which was submitted for approval in late July, calls for the creation of the RNAi Therapeutics Center at UMMS in Worcester to “highlight and build on the work” of Nobel Prize-winning RNAi pioneer Craig Mello.

Although it is not known when or if the bill will be passed, or how much of the
$1 billion the RNAi center would receive, “we’re moving forward at UMass Medical School with confidence that the state will come through with a significant part of the investment,” Flotte says.

Should the Life Sciences Initiative be approved, allocation of the $1 billion will be the responsibility of Massachusetts’ Life Sciences Center, which was created last year to oversee all state funding for life sciences initiatives.

Doug Macron

Short Reads

The United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency awarded Alnylam Pharmaceuticals $38.6 million over 33 months to develop a broad-spectrum, RNAi-based antiviral drug for viral hemorrhagic fever.

Rosetta Genomics has teamed up with Ben Gurion University to develop miRNA-targeting drugs against viruses such as Epstein-Barr and herpes simplex. They hope that silencing viral miRNA will lead to a new class of drugs.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Medtronic have expanded their collaboration to develop RNAi-based drugs and delivery devices for neurodegenerative diseases, especially Huntington's disease. Medtronic will be responsible for commercialization in the US and for clinical development and commercialization in Europe.
 
Silence Therapeutics and Quark Pharmaceuticals enlarged their technology licensing agreement. Quark now has a non-exclusive license to develop RNAi drug molecules against three targets, based on Silence’s AtuRNAi technology. This involves chemically stabilized and blunt-ended siRNAs.

Nucleonics has applied for a rehearing of its appeal for the reinstatement of a patent-infringement lawsuit with Benitec. Last month, the appeals court rejected Nucleonics’ request to re-open the patent-infringement suit, which Benitec filed against Nucleonics in 2004.

Patents

US application 20070185318. siRNA targeting connexin 43. Inventors: Anastasia Khvorova, Angela Reynolds, Devin Leake, William Marshall, Steven Read, and Stephen Scaringe. Filed: March 30, 2007.

This patent application includes methods, compositions, and kits directed at connexin 43, or gap junction protein alpha 1. According to the application, “Efficient sequence specific gene silencing is possible through the use of siRNA technology. By selecting particular siRNAs by rational design, one can maximize the generation of an effective gene silencing reagent, as well as methods for silencing genes.”

US application 20070178068. Compositions and methods for regulating complement system. Inventors: Samuel Jotham Reich, Nadine Dejneka. Filed: December 22, 2006.

According to this patent application, the inventors developed a way to modulate the human complement pathway through siRNA that is designed to activate RNAi-mediated breakdown of the complement proteins. The patent mentions ocular disease and macular degeneration-related disease as examples of conditions that may be treated with this technique.

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