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News Briefs: Jan 28, 2009


Mirna Therapeutics and MD Anderson to Develop mRNA-based Rxs for Prostate Cancer

Mirna Therapeutics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Asuragen, will collaborate with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Science Park Research Center in Smithville to investigate microRNAs in human prostate cancer, the company said this week.

The principal investigators for the study are Dean Tang, associate professor in the division of carcinogenesis and adjunct associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at UT; and David Brown, director of discovery for Mirna.

Tang's research currently focuses on therapeutic strategies for inducing senescence and apoptosis in prostate cancer stem cells, Mirna said.

Meantime, Brown has several years of experience developing technologies for isolating, detecting, and characterizing small RNA, including microRNA, and has been applying these technologies at Mirna and Asuragen to identify miRNAs as diagnostic and therapeutic targets in human diseases, particularly cancer.

Additional details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Kahr Medical Raises $500K from HBL, Israeli Gov't to Commercialize UPenn Drug-Discovery Tech

Kahr Medical, a Hadasit Bio-Holdings portfolio company, said this week that it has raised $500,000 from HBL and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor of Israel.

Kahr Medical is developing drugs built around trans-signal converter protein, or TSCP, technology, invented by University of Pennsylvania professor Mark Tykocinski. Kahr has a license to the technology from UPenn. Details of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.

The financing will support further development of Kahr's product pipeline.

According to the company, TSCP molecules integrate two functional sides within the same molecule, unlike conventional biologicals that only have one functional side. These two active sides allow TSCP drugs to block or induce cell signals like conventional drugs, and to convert signals sent from one cell to another, which may be beneficial for manipulating the immune system when treating autoimmune disease, Kahr said.

Kahr has raised $1.5 million to date from HBL and the OCS. The company said that it plans to begin an external financing round before the end of 2009 to support its clinical program.

Hadasit Bio-Holdings is the publicly traded holding company of Hadasit, the technology transfer company of Hadassah Medical Organization.

Artemis Health Licenses IP from Stanford for Fetal DNA Prenatal Dx Tests

Artemis Health said this week that it has licensed co-exclusive worldwide rights from Stanford University to develop cell-free fetal DNA prenatal diagnostic tests based on research carried out in the lab of Stanford professor Stephen Quake.

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Menlo Park, Calif.-based Artemis said that the licensing deal will expand its clinical and research program and allow it to develop a non-invasive prenatal blood test that predicts chromosomal and genetic disorders.

The privately held firm, which was formed in 2002, has a parallel development program focused on the isolation of intact fetal cells from maternal blood for advanced genetic analysis.

The license from Stanford covers the use of digital PCR and shotgun sequencing to analyze cell-free fetal DNA from maternal blood, particularly for the diagnosis of fetal genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome, and Patau syndrome. Artemis also noted that it has extended its exclusive consulting relationship with Quake.

Quake's approach was detailed in a paper appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early October. The researchers used digital PCR and shotgun sequencing to sequence all of the cell-free DNA in the mother's blood plasma.

Stanford has applied for a patent on the methodology outlined in the paper and has also licensed the IP to Fluidigm. Quake co-founded Fluidigm and chairs its scientific advisory board.

Artemis was initially founded based on microfluidics technology that was developed at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University. It uses the technology to separate out the maternal cells without hurting the fetal cells.

A similar method of prenatal screening has been employed by Sequenom in collaboration with researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which demonstrated that they could use massively parallel DNA sequencing to detect Down syndrome from cell-free fetal DNA in pregnant women's blood. Their findings were published in PNAS in early December (see BTW, 12/3/2008).

SUNY Sues Bruker and Varian over Spectroscopy Patent

The Research Foundation of the State University of New York has filed a lawsuit against Bruker and Varian for allegedly infringing a patent owned by SUNY and covering spectroscopic equipment used for protein research.

The suit was filed last week in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York. It alleges that Bruker and Varian are infringing the university's patent, US No. 6,831,459, entitled "Method of Using G-matrix Fourier Transformation Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (GFT NMR) Spectroscopy for Rapid Chemical Shift Assignment and Secondary Structure Determination of Proteins."

Although the suit does not name specific products, it alleges that Bruker and Varian are both "making, using, selling, offering for sale, and/or importing into the United States, without authority, spectrometers and related products that practice methods of the '459 patent."

The SUNY Research Foundation has asked the court to declare that Bruker and Varian have infringed and continue to infringe the '459 patent, to judge the infringement as willful and award treble damages, and to issue an injunction against those firms selling allegedly infringing products.

SUNY received the patent on Dec. 14, 2004, but it did not state in the lawsuit when it believes Bruker and Varian began infringing that patent.

This is the second patent-infringement lawsuit filed by an academic institution against Varian in the last year, although for different technologies. In June, the University of Pittsburgh claimed in a suit that the company infringes a pair of US patents, Nos. 5,727,554 and 5,781,431, which relate to an imaging apparatus that is responsive to a patient's movements during radiological treatment, and an apparatus for matching X-ray images with reference images, respectively (see BTW, 6/25/2008).

The Scan

Latent HIV Found in White Blood Cells of Individuals on Long-Term Treatments

Researchers in Nature Microbiology find HIV genetic material in monocyte white blood cells and in macrophages that differentiated from them in individuals on HIV-suppressive treatment.

Seagull Microbiome Altered by Microplastic Exposure

The overall diversity and the composition at gut microbiome sites appear to coincide with microplastic exposure and ingestion in two wild bird species, according to a new Nature Ecology and Evolution study.

Study Traces Bladder Cancer Risk Contributors in Organ Transplant Recipients

In eLife, genome and transcriptome sequencing reveal mutation signatures, recurrent somatic mutations, and risky virus sequences in bladder cancers occurring in transplant recipients.

Genes Linked to White-Tailed Jackrabbits' Winter Coat Color Change

Climate change, the researchers noted in Science, may lead to camouflage mismatch and increase predation of white-tailed jackrabbits.