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Short Reads: Aug 30, 2007


Applera announced that it has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to advise the company as it considers restructuring its Applied Biosystems and Celera groups. Among the alternatives to consider, Applera said, is separating them out into two independent, publicly traded companies.

This summer, PLoS One introduced a reader rating system allowing registered users to score papers based on three categories: insight, style, and reliability. “We want peer review to continue after publication as well,” says Mark Patterson, director of publishing for PLoS. The PLoS team hopes that these ratings will be another way “for the broader community to share opinions on the importance and merit of research articles,” Patterson says.

The University of California, Irvine, won a five-year, $14.5 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to support the systems-biology-focused Center for Complex Biological Sciences, directed by Arthur Lander. The university says the funding will support a team of 20 scientists who will use multidisciplinary research approaches to study human biology.

Dennis Gilbert resigned as chief scientific officer and vice president of research at Applied Biosystems to “pursue other career interests,” according to the company.

They have become known as the “First 10” — the 10 people who were first to volunteer (and be accepted) for George Church’s Personal Genome Project. Esther Dyson announced that she was among the 10, and that she would be making public her sequence and full medical records to support the project. One volunteer remains anonymous, but the rest have released their names as well: Misha Angrist from Duke; Keith Batchelder of Genomic Healthcare Strategies; George Church; Sciona’s Rosalynn Gill-Garrison; John Halamka at Harvard; Stan Lapidus from Helicos; Kirk Maxey of Cayman Chemical; and James Sherley, formerly with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The WM Keck Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Texas A&M University for systems biology work. The money will help fund studies of the regulation of cellular processes at the genomic level.

Accelerator, a Seattle-based biotech investment and development organization affiliated with the Institute for Systems Biology, has hauled in more than $22.5 million in financing commitments from several sources. Investors included Amgen Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, and OVP Venture Partners. Accelerator formed in 2003 and has helped to raise a total of $130 million for itself and for biotech startups.

In a partnership deal, Codon Devices will use its bioengineering platform to develop enzymes that can be used in ethanol production by agbiotech Agrividia. The agreement is part of a new partnering program announced by Codon.

Lubert Stryer, a professor of cell biology at Stanford University, was awarded the 2006 National Medal of Science in a ceremony at the White House in late July. Among his accomplishments, Stryer was a co-author on the first paper describing microarray technology, published in 1991.

The University of Louisville and the University of California, Davis, won $4.4 million and $7.5 million, respectively, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to conduct environmental genomics studies. The funding comes through a program aimed at studying how gene-environment interactions may lead to diseases.

NHGRI plans to distribute $27.5 million in grants for large-scale, genome-wide association studies for complex diseases. The allocation will support three to five studies for four years; letters of intent are due October 19.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals closed its strategic alliance with Roche, triggering aggregate payments to Alnylam of about $331 million. In addition, the Roche Venture Fund has purchased 1.975 million shares of Alnylam common stock for a total of $42.5 million.

Toronto-based GeneNews will get $2 million as part of a deal to develop and validate biomarkers for prostate diseases, including cancer, for an unnamed Asian biomedical consortium.

Xceleron appointed Joel Schaefer, previously at MDS Pharma, as senior director of business development. Schaefer also has worked at Otsuka, Johnson & Johnson, and at Boehringer-Ingelheim.

Gene Logic named Stephen Donahue to be president of its clinical development division, for which he will run the company’s proprietary drug candidates through repositioning partnerships. Donahue was formerly VP of clinical research and operations at Epix Pharmaceuticals and medical director at Merck.

The Scan

Drug Response Variants May Be Distinct in Somatic, Germline Samples

Based on variants from across 21 drug response genes, researchers in The Pharmacogenomics Journal suspect that tumor-only DNA sequences may miss drug response clues found in the germline.

Breast Cancer Risk Gene Candidates Found by Multi-Ancestry Low-Frequency Variant Analysis

Researchers narrowed in on new and known risk gene candidates with variant profiles for almost 83,500 individuals with breast cancer and 59,199 unaffected controls in Genome Medicine.

Health-Related Quality of Life Gets Boost After Microbiome-Based Treatment for Recurrent C. Diff

A secondary analysis of Phase 3 clinical trial data in JAMA Network Open suggests an investigational oral microbiome-based drug may lead to enhanced quality of life measures.

Study Follows Consequences of Early Confirmatory Trials for Accelerated Approval Indications

Time to traditional approval or withdrawal was shorter when confirmatory trials started prior to accelerated approval, though overall regulatory outcomes remained similar, a JAMA study finds.