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Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, AstraZeneca, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, Acorda Therapeutics, Hadassah Medical Org

WUSTL and AstraZeneca Forge Research Collaboration for Alzheimer’s Disease
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and AstraZeneca announced a research collaboration last week that aims to develop new ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Under the agreement, Washington University and AstraZeneca will conduct research to better understand the connections between Alzheimer’s disease and tau proteins. Specifically, researchers hope to identify changes in tau proteins present in the spinal fluid that could be added to a panel of indicators for Alzheimer’s, Washington University said.
Other projects include looking for new genetic markers linked to Alzheimer’s disease risk and testing potential Alzheimer’s treatments developed by AstraZeneca scientists in Alzheimer’s models used by university researchers.
Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

UNC-Chapel Hill and Hamner Institutes Forge Tech-Commercialization Partnership
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences have signed a memorandum of understanding that will guide innovative collaborations in basic and translational research, the schools said last week.
Under the agreement, the scientific and business-development teams at the Hamner Institutes will work with Carolina faculty, including those from the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery in the Schools of Pharmacy, Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and the University’s Office of Technology Development to identify, assess, and enhance development of new research leads.
Together, they will pursue a wide array of research grant opportunities from government, industry, and non-profit organizations to accelerate development of promising research and technologies that can be licensed out and/or spun out into UNC’s new innovation center, the schools said.
Key initial areas of anticipated collaboration include pursuit of new therapies for cancer and respiratory diseases by advancing experimental and computational sciences in drug safety assessment, drug disposition, pharmacogenomics, genomic medicine, nanomedicine, drug delivery, and public health.
This new partnership will also draw upon extensive resources available at the state’s other academic institutions and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which supports statewide faculty recruitment, scientific education, economic development, and technology development.

Public-Private Minnesota Partnership Transfers MS Drug for Processing
The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, and the state of Minnesota, said last week that its production lab has transferred its first potential therapy to a processing plant in the state.
The antibody-based treatment for multiple sclerosis, rHIgM22, was developed at Mayo Clinic, and produced and purified in the Biotherapeutic Protein Production Laboratory on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, created by a Partnership infrastructure award in 2006. The amount of this award was not disclosed.
The therapy has been licensed to Acorda Therapeutics, which is supporting its development, including the transfer of remaining production and purification to biotech firm Biovest.
The antibody’s use as a promoter of myelin repair was discovered in studies using animal models of multiple sclerosis in the laboratory of Moses Rodriguez, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, while the initial synthetic production of the antibody was conducted in the laboratory of Larry Pease, chair of immunology at Mayo.
“The Partnership has provided a mechanism for academic and commercial institutions to work together effectively in the early stages of developing a promising and innovative therapeutic approach to a very challenging condition,” Ron Cohen, president and CEO of Acorda, said in a statement.

Hadasit and Brigham and Women’s Complete Phase I Trial for Immune Mediation Drug
Hadasit, the technology transfer company of Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston last week announced successful results of a Phase I study of a new orally administered drug for immune-mediated diseases such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and liver disease.
The Phase I trial investigated dosing, safety, and immunological effects of the drug in 18 healthy male subjects in their 20’s and 30’s who took the drug orally, once daily, for a week. The study was conducted at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Hadasit and Brigham and Women’s said that the drug, which is based on a monoclonal antibody (anti-CD3) and a glycol-lipid given separately and together, was found to be safe, with no adverse side effects. It was also shown to modulate the immune system by causing an increase in regulatory cells that control the body’s immune response, and a decrease in the cytokines that induce inflammation.
The trial was originally announced in January. Phase II studies are anticipated to begin during the second half of this year, the organizations said. Indications under consideration include multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, type II diabetes, and fatty liver disease.

Theranostics Licenses Biomarker Microdissection Tech from NIH
Theranostics Health said this week that it has licensed proteomic biomarker discovery technology from the National Institutes of Health.
The Rockville, Md.-based company’s core technology, Reverse Phase Protein Microarray combined with Laser Capture Microdissection, was developed by company co-founders Emanuel Petricoin and Lance Liotta.
Under the agreement, Theranostics will pay NIH license issue royalties, minimum annual royalties, and benchmark and earned royalties upon successful commercialization of the technology.
Petricoin, CSO of Theranostics, said in a statement that the company's “unique signaling pathway platform allows the activity of theranostic biomarkers of interest to be quantitatively measured from microdissected patient samples.”
Theranostics Health CEO Danong Chen said the exclusive license allows the company to develop companion diagnostics to be used in treatment decision-making and monitoring.

TEDCO Awards $275K in Phase II Tech-Transfer Funding
The Maryland Technology Development Corporation announced this week that it has awarded four Maryland technology companies a second round of funding totaling $275,000 through its Maryland Technology Transfer Fund.
TEDCO awarded $75,000 each to Expression Pathology, InvisiTrak, and Sensics; and $50,000 to ChromoTrax.
This MTTF program is designed to foster greater collaboration between businesses and Maryland universities and federal laboratories to bring technology into the marketplace. Companies that have completed MTTF phase I successfully and have secured angel or other external investment are invited to apply for another round of MTTF funding.
MTTF phase II funding matches the external investment dollar for dollar up to $75,000. Like phase I, the phase II funding is a reimbursable award.
ChromoTrax, located in Frederick, Md., is working with the University of Maryland-Baltimore to develop technologies and products to improve diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from genetic diseases, including cancers. The company has developed advanced Hybridization-In-Suspension methodology, a patented technique in which DNA probes are hybridized in solution and the results scored by flow cytometry rather than manually. ChromoTrax received $75,000 through its first round of MTTF funding in November 2006.
Expression Pathology, located in Gaithersburg, Md., is working with the National Institutes of Health to develop and commercialize new technologies to discover and measure protein biomarkers in cancer tissue. The company’s Liquid Tissue and DIRECTOR laser microdissection technologies enable the identification and accurate measurement in the tissue of proteins that relate to specific disease prognosis and drug response to improve patient treatment decisions. Expression Pathology received $50,000 through its first round of MTTF funding in April 2004.
InvisiTrak, located in Edgewater, Md., is working with the University of Maryland Baltimore County to develop improved radio frequency technology for IT applications; and Sensics, located in Baltimore, is working with Johns Hopkins University to develop technology for a compact training simulator.

Med BioGene to Commercialize UHN Lung Cancer Prognostic Test
British Columbia-based molecular diagnostics company Med BioGene has obtained exclusive, worldwide rights to develop and commercialize early-stage, non-small-cell lung cancer prognostic tests discovered by researchers in the Ontario-based University Health Network.
Under the licensing and collaboration agreement, Med BioGene plans to market the test — a gene expression-based assay — under the trade name LungExpress Dx. The assay was developed by researchers in the UHN — three teaching hospitals affiliated with the University of Toronto. The prognostic test has been presented at scientific meetings and an article on the technology was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology last December.
Last year, in the United States alone, there were roughly 213,000 new lung cancer cases. Some 85 percent of these are non-small cell lung cancers. Most of these, if detected early, are treated by surgically removing tumors. But there are differences in treatment response between individuals. Some benefit from chemotherapy after surgery while others may not require it.
The LungExpress Dx test is intended to help physicians select those patients who will benefit most from chemotherapy treatment after surgery. By identifying these patients, the researchers say, it may be possible to narrow the group of patients who get chemotherapy, sparing those who don’t need it from an expensive and highly toxic treatment.
“This test has the potential to make an immediate impact upon patient care by providing a more significant understanding of each patient’s lung cancer, thus resulting in better-informed, more appropriate treatment decisions,” Frances Shepherd, chair of the National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group Lung Cancer Site and who helped develop the UHN test, said in a statement. “We are moving much closer to the ultimate goal of personalized medicine.”

Gene Express Licenses USF IP for Lung Cancer Predictive Test
Gene Express said this week that it has licensed technology from the University of South Florida that it will use to develop a prognostic test to be used in the treatment of lung cancer.
The company licensed gene expression technology related to the ERCC1 and RRM1 genes from USF’s Division of Patents & Licensing Research Office.
USF researchers have found that ERCC1 activity can be used to predict survival in patients with non-small cell lung cancer and have found that RRM1 is a determinant of malignant behavior in NSCLC.
Gene Express said USF’s scientists have determined that knowing the level of expression of RRM1 allows for better-informed decisions than currently used predictors of tumor stage, performance status, and weight loss.
The Toledo, Ohio-based company said it plans to develop the prognostic test and commercialize it over the next two years.
Gene Express expects to complete clinical validation to correlate gene expression with chemoresistance for cisplatin treatment and to submit a 510(k) class II prognostic test to the US Food and Drug Administration by May 2009. The firm hopes to obtain approval from the FDA by August 2009 and have the test on the market by the end of next year.

The Scan

Study Finds Sorghum Genetic Loci Influencing Composition, Function of Human Gut Microbes

Focusing on microbes found in the human gut microbiome, researchers in Nature Communications identified 10 sorghum loci that appear to influence the microbial taxa or microbial metabolite features.

Treatment Costs May Not Coincide With R&D Investment, Study Suggests

Researchers in JAMA Network Open did not find an association between ultimate treatment costs and investments in a drug when they analyzed available data on 60 approved drugs.

Sleep-Related Variants Show Low Penetrance in Large Population Analysis

A limited number of variants had documented sleep effects in an investigation in PLOS Genetics of 10 genes with reported sleep ties in nearly 192,000 participants in four population studies.

Researchers Develop Polygenic Risk Scores for Dozens of Disease-Related Exposures

With genetic data from two large population cohorts and summary statistics from prior genome-wide association studies, researchers came up with 27 exposure polygenic risk scores in the American Journal of Human Genetics.