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Cenix Ends Worm Work with Screen Publication


Cenix BioScience announced in late March the publication of its genome-wide RNAi screen for cell division genes in C. elegans, effectively ending the first chapter of the company’s five-year history.

“It was, to our knowledge, the very first genome-scale screen to be attempted [using] RNAi,” says Chris Echeverri, Cenix CEO and CSO. “Obviously, we haven’t been the very first to publish a genome-scale screen, especially in C. elegans, but we focused not on being the first to publish. Rather, [we were] really trying to make sure we did it as right as could be.”

The screen was funded in part by the Max Planck Society, and the resultant data — which includes about 40,000 time-lapse recordings, still micrographs, and text annotations from more than 300,000 microinjection experiments — has been made freely available online by the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.

With the publication, Cenix has essentially ended its work in C. elegans, according to Echeverri. “Although [the screen] was our main project at the beginning … when RNAi became feasible in mammalian cells, we shifted our focus towards more advanced applications of” the gene-silencing technology, he explains. “Now, in fact, literally everything we do is in human cells or rodent cells.”

The C. elegans work began with Cenix co-founder Pierre Gonczy while he was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Anthony Hyman at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. The initial interest, Echeverri says, was to identify all the genes involved in the first two rounds of mitotic cell division using time-lapse video microscopy, and in 1998 work began on “testing of the feasibility of doing genome-scale RNAi on one chromosome of C. elegans — chromosome 3, which corresponded to about 2,300 genes,” he says. “We shot through most of that chromosome within two months, and we knew we had the basis for not only continuing the screen over the whole worm genome, but also exploring the feasibility of doing RNAi screening in other systems.”

— Doug Macron



US Patent application 20050060771. siRNA-Encoding Constructs and Methods for Using the Same. Inventor: Andrew Alan Farmer. Assignee: BD Biosciences. Filed: August 27, 2004.

This patent covers constructs to encode siRNA, “characterized by including a siRNA coding domain flanked by opposing promoters,” according to the abstract. “Sense and antisense strands of the desired siRNA product encoded by the coding domain are transcribed under the direction of the two opposing promoters flanking the coding domain. The transcribed sense and antisense strands are then annealed to each other to produce the desired siRNA double-stranded molecule.”


US Patent application 20050059044. Double-Stranded Nucleic Acid. Inventors: Michael Graham, Kenneth Reed, Robert Rice, Bruce Harrison, Petrus Roelvink, David Suhy, Alexander Kolykhalov. Filed: June 3, 2004.

This invention aims at “constructs for RNAi techniques,” the abstract says. “The invention provides a ribonucleic acid for use as interfering RNA in gene silencing techniques to silence a target gene comprising in a 5’ to 3’ direction” various effector and complementary sequences.



$4 million

Amount of financing round recently completed by Rosetta Genomics, an Israeli microRNA technology startup. This is the third funding round for the company.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology earlier this year, Alnylam presented in vivo efficacy data for its lead RNAi therapeutic candidate for respiratory syncytial virus.


CytRx completed enrollment of healthy volunteers for its phase I study of a DNA-based HIV vaccine. The goals of the trial, which according to the company was fully enrolled six months ahead of schedule, are to determine safety and dose tolerance.


The Translational Genomics Institute and International Genomics Consortium have a new place to call home: their $46 million headquarters — a 173,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, Ariz. — officially opened in March.


Benitec signed a deal giving Genoway worldwide, non-exclusive rights to its expressed RNAi technology. Genoway will use the tools to develop transgenic animals.


MWG Biotech made M-Medical its exclusive distributor for services — including DNA and siRNA synthesis and DNA sequencing — in Italy. M-Medical, based near Milan, is owned by the D-Group.


Martin Schmieg resigned as senior vice president and CFO of Sirna Therapeutics for personal and family reasons, effective late last month. Patti Ketchner, vice president and corporate controller, will assume Schmieg’s responsibilities.


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