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News Briefs: Nov 19, 2008

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Genzyme and Italian Non-Profit ICGEB Partner on Neglected Diseases
 
Genzyme and the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a non-profit R&D organization based in Italy, said this week that they are collaborating to advance treatments for neglected diseases.
 
The collaboration will initially focus on developing new, improved treatments for malaria. ICGEB and Genzyme scientists are currently targeting Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, increasingly resistant parasites that cause up to 65 percent of malaria in India, the organizations said.
 
In a statement, Genzyme and ICGEB said that the collaboration includes “an innovative approach to intellectual property rights,” providing ICGEB rights to commercial uses within the field of neglected disease on a royalty-free basis.
 
ICGEB, based in Trieste, said it has already begun identifying promising targets that, combined with Genzyme’s drug-development expertise, could lead to new anti-malarial compounds.
 
The research will take place in both ICGEB’s laboratories in New Delhi, and Genzyme’s facilities in Waltham, Mass.
 
Additional terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.
 

 
Tufts Spinout Ascent Therapeutics Garners $19M in Series A Financing
 
Ascent Therapeutics, a 2006 spinout of Tufts University Medical Center, has raised $19 million in Series A financing to further develop its pepducin lipopeptides, a novel class of GPCR modulators to treat a variety of illnesses.
 
Participants in the financing round included Novartis Option Fund, Healthcare Ventures, and TVM Capital.
 
The pepducin technology on which Ascent was founded was discovered in the Tufts Medical Center laboratories of Athan Kuliopulos and Lidija Covic. In 2006, the technology won the TechConnect Emerging Technology Award in the life sciences category based on strength of intellectual property, value proposition, and market impact, Ascent said.
 
Tufts has granted Ascent a worldwide exclusive license to the technology.
 

 
Biomedical Device Firm SpineSmith Collaborates with UT Engineering Students
 
Biomedical device company SpineSmith Partners is collaborating with several design teams in the University of Texas department of biomedical engineering to help educate students on the design, engineering, and commercialization of medical devices, the company said last week.
 
Groups of biomedical engineering students will work closely with SpineSmith’s product engineers to take ideas conceptualized by practicing spine surgeons and design products for commercialization.
 
SpineSmith said that it believes the collaboration will give it a competitive advantage over the numerous companies trying to enter the regenerative medicine market by providing the company with additional biomedical engineering knowledge and a source of potential employees.
 

 
FDA Approves IND for UPenn Spinout Zabecor’s Asthma Rx
 
Zabecor Pharmaceuticals said this week that its investigational new drug application for its siRNA-based asthma treatment has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
 
ZaBeCor was founded in 2002 using technology licensed from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
 
The company did not indicate when a phase I study of the drug, called Excellair, would begin.
 
Excellair is an siRNA targeting the intracellular kinase Syk. The company had previously been expecting to start clinical testing of the drug by 2007.
 

 
UW Spinout FluGen Nets $250K Loan from State to Advance Bird Flu Vaccine
 
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle last week said that Madison-based FluGen will receive a $250,000 Technology Venture Fund loan from the Department of Commerce.
 
FluGen was founded in 2007 based on virology and reverse genetics technologies developed at the University of Wisconsin.
 
The company will use the loan to acquire equipment and continue research and development of a vaccine for bird flu.
 
The total cost of the project is approximately $2 million, according to FluGen.
 

 
BioForce Nanosciences Inks Cell-Based Assay Research Pact with French Institutes
 
BioForce Nanosciences last week said that it has signed a scientific collaboration agreement with the University Pierre & Marie Curie and Centre National de Recheche Scientifique in Paris.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, researchers from the laboratory of Fatiha Nothias at UPMC will collaborate with BioForce to develop technologies, protocols, and products related to neural cell-based assays.
 
These proprietary assays will be created using the Nano eNabler molecular printer from BioForce, and they will allow scientists to study the structure, function, and microenvironments of neural cells, BioForce said.
 
Neural cell-based assays hold particular promise as a platform for evaluating the therapeutic potential of new drug compounds and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and neural trauma.
 
Additional terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.
 

 
Seattle's Accelerator Adds PPD as Investor
 
Seattle-based biotechnology investment and management company Accelerator Corporation said this week that drug-discovery contract research organization PPD has joined as the sixth investor in its Accelerator III investment vehicle.
 
Accelerator provides resources to biotech companies, including capital financing, facilities, scientific and technical expertise and support, as well as business management and support.
 
The company did not disclose the value of PPD’s investment, but said that the commitment brings total investment in Accelerator III to more than $27 million.
 
Accelerator’s life sciences partners include the Institute for Systems Biology, Amgen Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, OVP Venture Partners, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and WRF Capital.
 
Accelerator is currently involved in managing three startups, including Seredigm, Recodagen, and Mirina, and the company said that it has facilitated investment and managed nine early-stage companies in the past five years.
 

 
Gilead Contemplates IP-Infringement Lawsuit Against Teva Regarding Emory Patents
 
Gilead Sciences this week said that it has received a Paragraph IV Certification Notice Letter advising that Teva Pharmaceuticals submitted an Abbreviated New Drug Application to the US Food and Drug Administration requesting permission to manufacture and market a generic version of Gilead’s HIV drug Truvada.
 
In the letter, Teva alleges that two of the patents associated with Truvada – US Patent Nos. 6,642,245 and 6,703,396 – owned by Emory University and exclusively licensed to Gilead Sciences, are invalid, unenforceable, or will not be infringed by Teva’s manufacture of the generic product.
 
Gilead said it is currently reviewing the letter and has 45 days from the date of its receipt to commence a patent infringement lawsuit against Teva. Such a lawsuit would restrict the FDA from approving Teva’s ANDA for up to 30 months or until a district court issues a decision in favor of Teva, whichever occurs first.
 
Truvada is currently protected by 10 patents, Gilead said, all of which are listed in the FDA’s Approved Drugs Products List. All 10 patents would need to be invalidated or expired before a generic version of Truvada could be marketed, Gilead said.
 

 
UT System Approves $15M Program to Recognize Tech-Transfer, Teaching Excellence
 
The University of Texas System Board of Regents last week approved a $15 million initiative that will encourage and recognize “extraordinary efforts” in undergraduate teaching and commercialization activities at the system’s nine academic institutions.
 
The commercialization program establishes a center at UT-Austin aimed at accelerating technology transfer from UT institutions and increasing the number of startup companies based on UT innovations.
 
Additional details of the new center were not disclosed.
 

The initiative also creates two award programs that recognize teaching excellence, one at UT-Austin and the other for the UT System’s eight other institutions, UT said.

The Scan

Driving Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Down

Researchers from the UK and Italy have tested a gene drive for mosquitoes to limit the spread of malaria, NPR reports.

Office Space to Lab Space

The New York Times writes that some empty office spaces are transforming into lab spaces.

Prion Pause to Investigate

Science reports that a moratorium on prion research has been imposed at French public research institutions.

Genome Research Papers on Gut Microbe Antibiotic Response, Single-Cell RNA-Seq Clues to Metabolism, More

In Genome Research this week: gut microbial response to antibiotic treatment, approach to gauge metabolic features from single-cell RNA sequencing, and more.