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Tech Transfer Tidbits: Mar 25, 2009

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Germany's Merck Serono Launches Venture Fund for Early-Stage Biotechs

Merck Serono, a division of Germany's Merck, said this week that it has formed Merck Serono Ventures to invest in emerging biotechnology companies.

The fund, which has an initial commitment to invest up to €40 million ($54.2 million) over the next five years, will support biotech startup companies that have the potential to provide innovative products in Merck Serono's core therapeutic areas, the company said.

In particular, the fund will seek out investments in neurodegenerative diseases, oncology, and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Merck Serono said that it will also target companies developing innovative technologies that could enable the discovery and development of new products in its core therapeutic areas.

Merck Serono Ventures will be included in the company's portfolio development function, and be closely linked to the research and development division of the company.

Companies wishing to submit proposals or receive additional information can do so through the MSV website.


MedCell Bioscience and Manchester U Nab $1.17M from UK Gov't for Stem Cell Project

Regenerative medicine company MedCell Bioscience and Manchester University have received an £800,000 million ($1.17 million) collaborative research and development award from the UK's Technology Strategy Board to support a three-year stem cell manufacturing project, MedCell said this week.

MedCell, based in Cambridge, UK, and Manchester University have also signed a collaborative agreement to commercialize existing and resulting intellectual property and products from the project.

Chris Ward, leader of the stem cell research group at Manchester University's Dental School, has developed a technology that allows embryonic stem cells to be grown as single cell suspensions without the need for growth factors, while retaining pluripotency and viability.

The technology has enabled culture in MedCell's low-shear NovaPod bioreactor system, and a transition from traditional 2D feeder layer culture to 3D bioprocessing without the need for feeder layers, growth factors, and manual or automated passaging, MedCell said.

Further details about the commercialization agreement were not disclosed.


VGX Pharma to Test DNA Vaccine with PATH, UPenn Med School

VGX Pharmaceuticals said this week that it has inked an agreement with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative to evaluate VGX's SynCon DNA vaccine development platform in a preclinical feasibility study.

The collaboration will also involve vaccine development and malaria experts from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, from which the company spun out in 2000.

As part of the study, VGX will design and test DNA vaccine candidates using target antigens from Plasmodium species and deliver them intradermally using its Cellectra constant current electroporation device.

Additional details of the agreement were not disclosed.


Catapult Bio to Bolster Life Science Innovation in Surprise, Ariz.

The city of Surprise, Ariz., and Catapult Bio have signed a strategic partnership agreement to advance the life science industry in Surprise and the state's West valley.

The partnership includes performing due diligence on life science companies, strategic advice, joint branding, and assistance with creating a local life sciences-related advisory committee.

The Surprise Economic Development Department is seeking federal stimulus money to create a local innovation center to launch biotech companies that Catapult Bio could bring to the community.

Catapult Bio is a spinoff of TGen Accelerators, the commercial arm of the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. Catapult, a non-profit organization that provides gap funding and services to develop and commercialize life science discoveries made in Arizona, launched in January with a grant of up to $14 million from Abraxis Bioscience (see BTW, 1/21/2009).


Bayer and China's Tsinghua University Establish Research Center in Beijing

Bayer HealthCare in Germany and Tsinghua University in Beijing have signed an agreement to enter into a strategic research partnership and establish a joint research center at the university.

The Bayer-Tsinghua Research Center of Innovative Drug Discovery will be directed by Yigong Shi, director of the department of biological sciences and biotechnology, and vice dean of the Institute of Biomedicine at Tsinghua.

As part of the collaboration, scientists from multiple departments within Tsinghua will collaborate with scientists from Bayer Schering Pharma Global Drug Discovery in therapeutic research areas such as oncology, women's health, diagnostic imaging, and cardiology.

Bayer Schering Pharma plans to launch two funds: a student fund, which will support a variety of life sciences study programs at the university; and a faculty fund, which will provide awards to "creative" faculty members for significant contributions to life sciences and drug discovery, particularly in Bayer Schering Pharma's core therapeutic areas.

Additional details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

The Scan

US Booster Eligibility Decision

The US CDC director recommends that people at high risk of developing COVID-19 due to their jobs also be eligible for COVID-19 boosters, in addition to those 65 years old and older or with underlying medical conditions.

Arizona Bill Before Judge

The Arizona Daily Star reports that a judge weighing whether a new Arizona law restricting abortion due to genetic conditions is a ban or a restriction.

Additional Genes

Wales is rolling out new genetic testing service for cancer patients, according to BBC News.

Science Papers Examine State of Human Genomic Research, Single-Cell Protein Quantification

In Science this week: a number of editorials and policy reports discuss advances in human genomic research, and more.