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BioArray Briefs: 2008.12.16

Signature Leases Space for Sales, Business Development, and IT Teams
Signature Genomic Laboratories has leased 4,600 square feet of office space in downtown Spokane, Wash., to “accommodate its growing business,” the firm said this week.
The new space will house Signature's finance, sales, marketing, business development, and information technology departments. In May, Signature completed construction of an 18,000-square-foot space for its headquarters and laboratory, also located in Spokane (see BAN 6/3/2008). 
Financial details of the expansion were not discussed.

Life Technologies, Illumina Added to Nasdaq-100 Index
Life Technologies and Illumina are among the firms that have been added to the Nasdaq-100 Index.
Both firms will be added to the index effective Dec. 22.
The Nasdaq-100 was established in January 1985 and represents the largest non-financial domestic and international securities listed on the Nasdaq based on market capitalization.
Life Technologies, formed by the recent merger of Invitrogen and Applied Biosystems, has a market cap of around $3.8 billion. Illumina’s market cap is roughly $2.7 billion.

Fluidigm, Life Technologies Among Tool Vendors to Get CIRM Grants
Fluidigm and Life Technologies were among tool vendors and academic research groups that were awarded funding last week from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to support the development of tools and reagents for stem cell research.
Fluidigm was approved for funding of roughly $750,000 to scale up a microfluidic cell culture system that will identify stem cell culture and differentiation, identify genes and small molecules effecting stem cells self-renewal and differentiation, and identify genes and small molecules involving or effecting reprogramming of differentiated cells.
According to CIRM, funding for Fluidigm’s project will support “chip redesign, a new carrier, and new software to interface with a commercial controller.”
Life Technologies said that it would use a grant of around $870,000 from CIRM to develop disease models of Lou Gehrig’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions from human embryonic stem cells.
The firm said that it received a two-year grant to conduct the research. In addition to the disease models, Life Technologies intends to develop accompanying protocols and reagents for genetically engineered stem cells.
In total, CIRM’s governing board approved more than $19 million in funding for this round of grants.

UCB Renews Agreement for Genedata's Phylosopher and Expressionist Platforms
Genedata said last week that UCB has renewed and expanded an agreement to use two Genedata software platforms in its lead discovery research.
The new agreement will allow UCB to use Genedata's Phylosopher and Expressionist software in its biologics and lead-finding studies for central nervous system disorders and autoimmune and inflammatory disorders that are conducted in the UK and Belgium.
The Expressionist biomarker research software includes public and private data and sample information, and its functions have been expanded to include data from UCB’s molecular profiling technology portfolio. The Phylosopher database integrates links between genome sequences and transcriptomics, proteomic and metabolic data, and other information and annotations, as well as disease-relevant phenotype information.
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.

Exiqon Delays Launch of First microRNA-based Dx
Exiqon President and CEO Lars Kongsbak last week said that the company would not launch its first microRNA-based diagnostic, a test to predict colon cancer recurrence, before the end of the year as previously announced. Instead, the test is slated for commercialization in January 2009.
Kongsbak told BioArray News’ sister publication RNAi News that the company has yet to submit the test for regulatory approval, but it expects to do so before the end of the month. Exiqon intends to seek that approval from the New York State Department of Health, even though commercialization of the test will be handled by its California-based subsidiary Exiqon Diagnostics, formerly Oncotech.
Kongsbak said clearance by New York’s health department is “considered the most complicated approval to obtain because [that agency] has the most sophisticated and advanced system” to assess products. Therefore, if the company wins approval there, “it will be less complicated to get approval from other states in the US,” he added.
Exiqon isn’t the only miRNA diagnostic company taking this tack. This summer, Rosetta Genomics obtained approval from the NY agency for its first miRNA test, which differentiates squamous from non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer. The company launched that test this week.
But ultimately, state regulators may not be the issue for miRNA diagnostics developers. Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration indicated that it may begin regulating so-called home-brew diagnostics available through clinical laboratories. However, it is not yet clear how this oversight will impact miRNA tests.
Kongsbak said that he expects the FDA will eventually begin regulating miRNA diagnostics, in part because of other companies that “have pushed the limit of CLIA labs to where the authorities want to get a more [robust] control system in place. If that comes, we’ll certainly respond to that and make sure we obey the rules,” he said.

Diagnoplex Gets $8.3M in Series A Financing
Swiss molecular diagnostics firm Diagnoplex last week said that it has closed a Series A financing round, raising CHF 10 million ($8.3 million) in funding.
Diagnoplex said that it would use proceeds from the financing to further develop its Colox non-invasive test for early detection of colon cancer.
The firm’s tests are based on its single-channel quantitative multiplex reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (scqmRT-PCR) platform that can quantify up to 60 genes simultaneously. According to the firm, the technology pairs the high accuracy and reliability of PCR with the possibility to read out multi-gene signatures of different cancers. It noted that unlike microarray platforms, its platform is easily scalable and can be run in most standardized testing labs.
The round of financing was led by Novartis Venture Fund and NeoMed, with additional investment from Initiative Capital Romandie. Novartis Venture Fund previously was a seed investor in Diagnoplex.

In connection with the funding, Anja König, managing director of Novartis Venture Fund, and NeoMed Principal Thomas Goebel will join Diagnoplex’s board of directors.

The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.