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Cepheid Adds MicroRNA to Molecular Dx Play

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Molecular diagnostics firm Cepheid has acquired France-based Actigenics for about $1.8 million in cash, signaling its expansion into the nascent field of microRNAs.

According to Emily Winn-Deen, vice president of strategic planning and business development at Cepheid, the transaction is part of an ongoing effort at her company to acquire novel biomarkers to use with new molecular diagnostics in its core areas of interest — cancer and infectious diseases — that began earlier in the year.

“In the spring, Cepheid went out and raised somewhere around $90 million … to … allow us to go out and acquire [biomarker] intellectual property, which would allow us to expand our test menu into areas … we had targeted as [having] high medical value-add applications,” she says.

Winn-Deen notes that although Cepheid had been aware of the growing body of research linking miRNAs to cancer and other diseases, “we hadn’t really pursued that. Most of what we had looked at previously was … more traditional, established markers,” she says.

However, when officials from Cepheid’s European headquarters in France brought up privately held Actigenics as a possible acquisition target, “we looked at what they had to offer [and] realized that this area of microRNAs is a very fundamental control mechanism for how different processes in the cell are turned on and off,” she says.

According to a statement made by Cepheid CEO John Bishop when the company announced the acquisition, “Actigenics has one of the largest portfolios of validated microRNAs in the world, having discovered 88 novel microRNAs to date. By using their proprietary search algorithms, several hundred more novel microRNA candidates have been identified and are being validated in their discovery pipeline.”

Winn-Deen acknowledges that miRNAs are still “very early-stage markers,” but says that this figured into Cepheid’s willingness to take a chance on Actigenics and an unproven technology.

— Doug Macron

 

PATENT WATCH

US patent application 20060178334. Double-stranded and single-stranded RNA molecules with 5’ triphosphates and their use for inducing interferon. Inventors: John Rossi and Dongho Kim. Assignee: City of Hope. Filed: February 6, 2006. The invention comprises “double-stranded and single-stranded RNA molecules and their use in methods for inducing interferon. … The interferon induction provides anti-viral and other medically useful effects, such as anti-cancer effects. Also provided are methods for reducing or inhibiting interferon induction exhibited by such molecules, particularly siRNA and shRNA molecules produced in vitro.”

US patent application 20060178329. RNAi probes targeting cancer-related proteins. Inventors: Martin Gleave, Burkhard Jansen, Ionnis Trougakos, Efstathios Gonos, Maxim Signaevsky, and Eliana Beraldi. Assignee: University of British Columbia. Filed: February 23, 2006. This invention provides for the use of RNAi sequences — specifically, those targeting clusterin, IGFBP-5, IGFBP-2, Mitf, and B-raf — in the treatment of various types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The abstract also includes a method of treating such conditions via the administration of RNAi molecules to an individual in need of such treatment.

 

SHORT READS

Lentigen and Dharmacon plan to develop and manufacture lentiviral expression reagents to deliver short hairpin RNA expression vectors into cells using RNA interference-mediated gene silencing. Terms of the deal call for Lentigen to manufacture and Dharmacon to sell the resulting products.

Nastech Pharmaceutical has obtained a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the US NIH to develop siRNA therapeutics that specifically target conserved regions of the influenza viral genome. The company did not disclose the amount of the grant, but Phase I SBIRs typically do not exceed $100,000.

 

North Carolina-based BioDelivery Sciences said that outside researchers have used its Bioral drug-delivery technology to deliver siRNAs targeting H5N1 avian influenza genes both intravenously and intranasally into a mouse model. The work marks BioDelivery’s most mature effort to date to apply its technology to the burgeoning RNAi drugs sector.

 

Rosetta Genomics has filed papers with the US SEC for an initial public offering. Assuming net proceeds of approximately $37.1 million, the firm said it plans to use $17 million to fund the continued development of diagnostic products for prostate cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, cancer of unknown primary, and liver cancer.

DATAPOINT

$10.1 million

Sirna’s reported net loss in the second quarter this year, up from $6 million in the year-ago quarter. Company officials attributed the loss in part to increased spending on research and clinical trial development.

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