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News Briefs: Feb 11, 2009


MIPS Funds Nine Life Sci-Related Public-Private Research Projects

The University of Maryland's Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program has approved funding nine medical therapeutics or diagnostics projects among 17 technology-commercialization efforts between Maryland companies and academic researchers.

The nine were among 17 projects valued at $4.8 million, combining $1.4 million from MIPS and $3.4 million coming from participating companies.

Four institutions are participating in the program — the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Baltimore; the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Subject to final contract negotiations, the approved projects include:

• Rockville-based Cellex and Richard Zhao, associate professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($158,750): developing a 5 to10 minute flu test that is economical, easy-to-use, and more sensitive than a leading rapid flu test.

• Baltimore-based Columbia BioSystems and Vincent Lee, assistant professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($149,000): developing a diagnostic to rapidly detect antibiotic-resistant nosocomial infections, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

• Rockville-based Foligo Therapeutics and William Bentley, professor, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute ($136,900): evaluating the folate receptor, a protein involved in ovarian cancer, as a target in cancer treatment.

• Rockville-based Fuzbien Technology Institute and Laundette Jones, assistant professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($222,348): developing rapid bioassays utilizing Fuzbien's ultrasensitive, carbon nanotube-based biosensors to accurately and inexpensively detect biomarkers of breast cancer.

• Baltimore-based Gliknik and Dean Mann, professor, University of Baltimore ($144,499): screening novel drug candidates for lupus to move forward into pre-clinical testing.

• Rockville-based Innovative Biosensors and Pamela Abshire, associate professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($235,596): developing a hand-held diagnostic instrument that will enable rapid, automated point-of-care detection of Group B Streptococcus.

• Hollywood-based Recovery Science and Jae Kun Shim, assistant professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($2,082,800): developing a neuromuscular training exoskeleton and nutrition regimen that corrects motor control dysfunction due to aging, disease, and common medication side effects.

• Gaithersburg-based Sirnaomics and Archibald Mixson, associate professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($158,199): developing an RNAi-based therapeutic to reduce scar formation and increase the tensile strength of skin from burns or chronic skin ulcers caused by pressure, venous stasis, or diabetes mellitus.

• Baltimore-based Syan Biosciences and Gregory Payne, director, Center for Biosystems Research, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute ($136,721): developing an electrochemical, multi-analyte biosensor solution for next-generation mobile analytics applications such as point-of-care diagnostics, water and food analysis, chemical and biological agent detection, and research.

University of Melbourne Spinout Fibrotech Nabs $3M in Series A Financing

Fibrotech Therapeutics, a spinout of the University of Melbourne, has secured a $3 million Series A financing to advance development of its lead fibrosis drug FT011 through Phase Ib clinical trials.

The company was formed by Darren Kelly, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne and St. Vincent's Hospital, with the support of Melbourne Ventures, the technology transfer company for the university.

Fibrotech's lead fibrosis drug has been shown to be orally bioavailable and significantly inhibit the progression of renal fibrosis in a rat model of diabetic nephropathy, Fibrotech said. The company expects to begin testing its first human patients within 18 to 24 months.

The financing round was led by Medical Research Commercialization Fund and BBF1 IIF, both of which are managed by Brandon Capital Partners; and Uniseed.

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Genentech and NCI Enter CRADA to Develop Joint Curis-Genentech Cancer Rx

Cancer therapeutic developer Curis said this week that its collaborator Genentech will enter into a cooperative research and development agreement with the National Cancer Institute that will allow NCI to explore GDC-0449, an orally administered small molecule hedgehog pathway inhibitor, in a number of cancer indications.

Curis has an ongoing collaboration with Genentech under which it provided broad intellectual property rights to the hedgehog pathway, including several small molecule inhibitors. GDC-0449 was discovered as part of this collaboration, and was jointly validated by the companies in pre-clinical studies, Curis said.

Tennessee's CET and UTRF Ink Licensing, Development Pact for Asthma Rx

Cumberland Emerging Technologies and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation said this week that they have entered into a licensing agreement for a new asthma treatment discovered at the UT Health Science Center.

Under the agreement, CET, a Nashville-based biomedical commercialization organization, is providing formulation, unspecified grant funding, regulatory, and product-development assistance to UT scientists in exchange for rights to commercialize the technology.

The treatment is designed to prevent remodeling of airway smooth muscle, thus reducing or eliminating asthmatic reactions in pediatric patients.

UT College of Medicine researcher and primary investigator Dukhee Betty Lew will conduct non-clinical studies to identify appropriate dosing for the drug. Upon completion of these studies, CET, UT, and URF will seek additional grant funding to study the drug's efficacy in patients.

The joint development agreement is a result of a 2006 collaboration agreement between CET and UTRF to further research efforts at the university by leveraging CET's technology-development and regulatory expertise. CET is a joint initiative between Cumberland Pharmaceuticals, Vanderbilt University, and the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation.

Texas Governor Announces $5.5M Investment to Create New Biomedical Institute at U of Houston; Calls for Renewal of Texas Emerging Tech Fund

Texas Governor Rick Perry this week announced that the state will invest $5.5 million in the University of Houston to create an Institute of Biomedical Research in conjunction with the Methodist Hospital Research Institute.

The governor also urged the Texas legislature to appropriate funds for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, a $200 million initiative created by the state legislature in 2005 and reauthorized in 2007 to fund research projects with commercial potential at Texas universities.

The new Institute for Biomedical Research will house the Texas International Center for Cell Signaling and Nuclear Receptors. Jan-Ake Gustafsson, formerly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, will serve as director of the new institute.

The Scan

Nucleotide Base Detected on Near-Earth Asteroid

Among other intriguing compounds, researchers find the nucleotide uracil, a component of RNA sequences, in samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, as they report in Nature Communications.

Clinical Trial Participants, Investigators Point to Importance of Clinical Trial Results Reporting in Canadian Study

Public reporting on clinical trial results is crucial, according to interviews with clinical trial participants, investigators, and organizers from three provinces appearing in BMJ Open.

Old Order Amish Analysis Highlights Autozygosity, Potential Ties to Blood Measures

Researchers in BMC Genomics see larger and more frequent runs-of-homozygosity in Old Order Amish participants, though only regional autozygosity coincided with two blood-based measures.

Suicidal Ideation-Linked Loci Identified Using Million Veteran Program Data

Researchers in PLOS Genetics identify risk variants within and across ancestry groups with a genome-wide association study involving veterans with or without a history of suicidal ideation.