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Short Reads: Aug 31, 2009

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Agilent Technologies signed a deal to acquire Varian for about $1.5 billion. The agreement, which would expand Agilent's presence in the life sciences research and applied markets, was expected to be complete by the end of this year.

In August, the US Senate confirmed Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health. In a statement, Kathleen Sebelius, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, called Collins "one of our generation's great scientific leaders."

Covance, a clinical research organization based in Princeton, NJ, announced that it will acquire Merck's Seattle-based gene expression laboratory and that Merck committed to a five-year genomic analysis service contract worth $145 million as part of the deal.

UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has been busy lately. The agency contributed funds to a new £22 million biomedical research facility opened at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK. Also, the BBSRC and the Institute for Animal Health will use £100 million to build new laboratories at IAH's Pirbright campus in Surrey that will focus on livestock pathogens and diseases.

In work investigating acute myeloid leukemia, scientists at Washington University published results from the second AML genome to be sequenced, while researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the National Cancer Institute used SNP microarrays and selective resequencing to find copy number alterations, loss of heterozygosity, and point mutations contributing to AML pathogenesis. In PNAS, St. Jude's reports that relatively few genetic changes are involved in the development of the disease.

Life Technologies acquired Cytonix, a privately-held microfluidic technologies firm based in Beltsville, Md. Life Tech said it acquired the company for its intellectual property related to its microfluidics-based digital PCR technology.

In a collaboration with Eli Lilly, SeqWright will use tools from Roche subsidiaries 454 Life Sciences and NimbleGen to identify genetic variants associated with psychiatric diseases.

University of Chicago scientist Janet Rowley received the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom award from Barack Obama. She is known for her pioneering cancer research, including the discovery of genetic traits associated with leukemia and lymphoma.

Arrayit is opening a business based in Houston to serve as a commercial arm for diagnostics that will run on the company's microarray platform. The Arrayit Diagnostics subsidiary will promote and market tests aimed at early-stage diagnostics. Arrayit currently is developing tests for cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and other diseases.

XDx raised $14.4 million in a funding round led by Bristol-Myers Squibb and including investments from all of its active previous investors. The company plans to use the money to support commercial activities for the AlloMap Molecular Expression Testing system and to continue its ongoing research programs.

Mary Keller is the new VP of clinical operations at Sequenom. Previously, she had been vice president for global clinical development at Shire Pharmaceuticals and also worked for Pfizer global R&D.

National Institute of General Medical Sciences issued a grant of nearly $300,000 to GeneGo to develop a database and new data management software for use in pharmacogenomics research.

In Science, researchers and bioethicists called for new policies on using genetic samples collected from children in population biobanks.

The US House of Representatives passed a 2010 budget that would increase the National Institutes of Health funding by nearly $1 billion more than its 2009 appropriation, excluding funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill also seeks $6.8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $67 million more than in 2009.

Graham Lidgard, previously senior vice president of R&D at Nanogen, was named chief scientific officer of Exact Sciences. Lidgard has also worked for Gen-Probe, Matritech, and Ciba Corning Diagnostics.

Millipore acquired Oxford, UK-based BioAnaLab, whose services include assay transfer and development, validation and sample analysis, pharmacokinetics and toxicokinetics, immunogenicity, biological potency, and vaccine work.

Sigma-Aldrich acquired cheminformatics company ChemNavigator, which has a suite of virtual screening and selection tools and searchable database of more than 60 million compounds, for an undisclosed sum.

The National Center for Genome Resources will use Febit's DNA-capture technology in a project on the genetics of childhood illnesses.

The Genomics Institute of the Novartis Foundation has teamed up with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in a four-year drug discovery and development program focused on type 1 diabetes.

SIRS-Lab, a molecular diagnostics company, hired Barbara Staehelin as its CEO. Staehelin has served as a member of the global executive committee at Roche Diagnostics.

Pacific Biosciences raised $68 million in a financing round from new and previous investors, bringing the total amount it has raised since the summer of 2008 to $188 million. New investors include the Wellcome Trust, Monsanto, and Sutter Hill Ventures. The company plans to launch a commercial version of its single-molecule, real-time sequencing instrument in the second half of 2010.

Salt Lake City-based ARUP Laboratories, a diagnostic testing services provider, now has a non-exclusive license for the DNA methylated Septin 9 gene from Berlin's Epigenomics for use as a biomarker in developing an early detection test for colorectal cancer.

Texas A&M's Institute for Genomic Medicine will receive $3.2 million from the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a program studying how chemicals affect human health.

Beckman Coulter organized two of its acquisitions — Agencourt Bioscience and Cogenics — into Beckman Coulter Genomics. The new company will offer a variety of services including sequencing, sample preparation, genotyping, gene expression, biological efficiency and safety testing, as well as support for regulatory compliance like CLIA.

Dako, a Danish diagnostics firm, signed an agreement to provide companion diagnostics for Genentech's trastuzumab (Herceptin) for patients with advanced HER2-positive stomach cancer. The deal calls for Genentech, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Roche, to collaborate with Dako on US regulatory submissions of the HercepTest and HER2 FISH pharmDx as companion diagnostics for Herceptin in treating these patients.

The US Department of Energy will fund new genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology research into biofuels and biomass using some of the money from a $327 million funding blast from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, targeted at new equipment purchases. The Joint Genome Institute will get $13.1 million, while DOE's Joint BioEnergy Institute and BioEnergy Research Center get $4 million and $3.2 million, respectively.

The Scan

Rare Genetic Disease Partnership

A public-private partnership plans to speed the development of gene therapies for rare genetic diseases, Stat News writes.

Approval Sought for Alzheimer's Drug

The Wall Street Journal reports Eli Lilly has initiated a rolling submission to the US Food and Drug Administration to seek approval for its drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

DNA Barcoding Paper Retracted

Science reports that a 2014 DNA barcoding paper was retracted after a co-author brought up data validity concerns.

Nature Papers Present Genomic Analysis of Bronze Age Mummies, Approach to Study Host-Pathogen Interactions

In Nature this week: analysis finds Tarim mummies had local genetic origin, and more.