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News Briefs: Jan 21, 2009

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PerkinElmer's ViaCord Research Institute Inks Research Pacts with UMass Medical; MD Anderson

PerkinElmer said last week that its ViaCord Research Institute will support diabetes research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and will extend an existing collaboration in the area of cord blood stem cells with MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Under its agreement with UMMS, VRI will support a project examining the potential use of umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells in treating type 1 diabetes. Dale Greiner, an investigator from UMMS' Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center, will lead the project.

Meantime, PerkinElmer said that VRI and MD Anderson have extended a collaboration to study a cord blood stem expansion system in adult transplantation.

MD Anderson is conducting a clinical trial, led by professor of stem cell transplantation Elizabeth Shpall, to explore a cord blood expansion technology called co-culture, which may increase the total number of stem cells available from a single cord blood unit.

The financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed.


UK's Wellcome Trust to Expand Tech-Transfer Program to Mainland Europe

The Wellcome Trust said last week that it has expanded its technology transfer activities beyond the UK to include mainland Europe.

As reported by ScienceBusiness, Wellcome Trust, Europe's largest medical research charity, revealed its plans at a meeting with Scandanavian researchers in Stockholm as part of the Academic Enterprise Awards Europe 2008.

The Wellcome Trust currently funds about £50 million ($69.6 million) per year in translational research. About 80 percent of that is disbursed within the UK, while 20 percent supports overseas projects.

Under the new program, Wellcome Trust will provide two £20 million funds for translational research in mainland Europe. One fund will provide general translation awards, while the other will provide seed awards for drug discovery.

In an e-mail to BTW, a spokesperson for Wellcome Trust said that between mainland Europe and the UK, the organization has earmarked some £55 million for translational research funding.

"Expanding the eligibility criteria of two existing schemes to include organizations in the rest of Europe beyond the UK is a fairly significant step for the Trust," the spokesperson said.


Marquette, UW-Milwaukee License Schizophrenia Compounds to Spinout Promentis Pharmaceuticals

Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Research Foundation have licensed compounds with the potential to treat schizophrenia to local startup company Promentis Pharmaceuticals.

The licensing agreement is based on research conducted in the laboratory of David Baker at Marquette's College of Health Sciences, and James Cook, a chemistry researcher at UWM.

Baker and colleagues at Marquette have developed compounds that modulate neurotransmitters in the brain and may be useful for treating various psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Meantime, Cook and others at UWM conducted research to optimize delivery of these compounds to the brain.

Baker founded Promentis last year along with John Mantsch, a biology professor at Marquette. Baker and Mantsch serve on Promentis' board of directors and will serve as consultants to the company along with Cook and Douglas Lobner, a biology professor at Marquette.

Terms of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.


Kauffman Foundation Launches Entrepreneurial Fellowship Programs

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation said this month that it would commit $5 million over four years to support a pair of new fellowship program intended to increase the number of experienced founders for startup companies and help the foundation better understand startup formation.

The Kauffman Entrepreneur Fellows program will pair four prospective entrepreneurs with select venture creation companies to attempt to create startup companies around innovative ideas.

Kauffman said that the venture creation companies – ExploraMed, The Foundry, and PureTech Ventures – are concentrated in the medical technology field.

In addition, Kauffman Foundation said that it will support and manage an Entrepreneur Postdoctoral Fellows program, which will educate a dozen postdoc researchers from US academic institutions about developing companies to commercialize innovations from the laboratory.


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WARF Licenses hESC Patents to Swedish Stem-Cell Firm Cellartis

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the non-profit technology-transfer organization for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said last week that it has licensed human embryonic stem cell patents to Swedish stem-cell company Cellartis.

The licensing agreement will allow Cellartis to commercialize undifferentiated hES cell products in the US, WARF said.

"The license opens the door to the large and important US market, alongside additional emerging partnering opportunities in the US, which fits well into our growth strategy," Cellartis CEO Mats Lundwall said in a statement.

Andy DeTienne, licensing manager for stem cell technologies at WARF, noted in a statement that the agreement with Cellartis reflects that commercial interest in hESCs continues to be strong.

Terms of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.


PolyOrg Licenses PNA Monomers from Copenhagen Inventor Group

PolyOrg, a Massachusetts-based chemistry services company, has entered into a non-exclusive license with the Copenhagen Inventor Group that will allow PolyOrg to manufacture and distribute PNA monomers worldwide.

PNAs are oligonucleotide analogs in which the sugar-phosphate backbone of DNA is substituted by an amino-ethyl-glycine backbone. The analogs hybridize strongly to complementary DNA or RNA but are not degraded by nucleases or proteases, making them attractive for applications in molecular biology, diagnostics, and gene therapy, PolyOrg said.

The analogs were invented in 1991 by professors Peter Nielsen, Ole Buchardt, Michael Egholm, and Rolf Berg at the University of Copenhagen, also known as the Copenhagen Inventor Group.

Terms of the license were not disclosed.


Sequenom and ITI to Develop SCID Test based on UCSF Work

Sequenom said last week that it has formed a research collaboration with the Immune Tolerance Institute under which ITI will use Sequenom's MassArray system to develop a newborn screening test for severe combined immunodeficiency.

ITI is a non-profit organization formed as a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco. The SCID assay is based on the work of UCSF researcher Jennifer Puck.

Sequenom said a recent feasibility study has demonstrated the adaptability of Puck's RT-PCR screening assay for SCID diagnosis on Sequenom's MassArray platform. ITI CEO Louis Matis said in a statement that SCID is curable by bone marrow transplants if it is detected in time.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.


UT-Dallas OTC Unveils New Website

The University of Texas at Dallas Office of Technology Commercialization last week unveiled a new website designed to facilitate the process of invention disclosure and evaluation, and technology transfer.

The website includes a primer on intellectual property, including an FAQ section; a guide to commercial readiness of UT Dallas inventions; an invention evaluation criteria form; and a summary of relevant university policies relating to IP and tech transfer.

"The new website provides an ongoing means to communicate general information about OTC philosophies, processes, and resources, with all of our stakeholders," Robert Robb, associate vice president for technology commercialization at UT Dallas, said in a statement.

"In addition, frequent updates will highlight UT Dallas inventors, inventions, startups, and licenses," Robb added. "Over time, the site will be a centralized repository for commercialization information and activities across the university."

The Scan

Pfizer-BioNTech Seek Full Vaccine Approval

According to the New York Times, Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking full US Food and Drug Administration approval for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Viral Integration Study Critiqued

Science writes that a paper reporting that SARS-CoV-2 can occasionally integrate into the host genome is drawing criticism.

Giraffe Species Debate

The Scientist reports that a new analysis aiming to end the discussion of how many giraffe species there are has only continued it.

Science Papers Examine Factors Shaping SARS-CoV-2 Spread, Give Insight Into Bacterial Evolution

In Science this week: genomic analysis points to role of human behavior in SARS-CoV-2 spread, and more.