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Avanticell Science, Giltech, Culzean Medical Devices, Cellectricon, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, BioWisdom, AstraZeneca, GVK Biosciences, NIH, White House

Avanticell Leads Effort to Make 3D Cellular Assays
Avanticell Science will lead a consortium to develop three-dimensional cell-based assay systems for use in drug discovery research, the company announced this week. The consortium includes Avanticell Science as well as Giltech and Culzean Medical Devices.
Avanticell Science will combine its strength in cell culture technology with Giltech’s and Culzean’s bio-engineering expertise to put living cells into a three-dimensional scaffold to create three-dimensional cell-based assays.

Cellectricon Gains $14M to Continue Expansion Via Share Issue
Cellectricon announced this week that it has issued shares of stock worth SEK 89 million ($14 million).
The share issue will strengthen Cellectricon’s financial position prior to the launch later this year or early next year of its Cellaxess HT RNAi screening platform and DynaFlow HT ion channel screening platform. 
These forthcoming products address a market that the company estimates will be worth $1.4 billion by 2010.

J&J Joins BioWisdom's Tox Safety Program
Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development will use BioWisdom’s toxicity safety software in drug development programs, BioWisdom said this week.
Under the three-year agreement, J&J has joined BioWisdom’s Safety Intelligence Program, which uses the company’s Sofia platform to create a “specialist medical search system” for drug safety risk assessment, BioWisdom said.
The SIP initiative is aimed at helping drug developers avoid drug-induced adverse events, BioWisdom said.
J&J is BioWisdom’s second SIP partner, following AstraZeneca, who joined the program last year.
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.

AstraZeneca Licenses GVK Toxicity Database
Drug giant AstraZeneca has licensed GVK Biosciences’ Mechanism Based Toxicity Database, the Hyderabad, India-based firm announced this week.
The database contains more than 13,000 drug and drug-like compounds, their routes of metabolism, toxic indications, and the numerical values of the measures of toxicity, according to GVK.
The license extends AstraZeneca’s existing license for all of GVK’s target and drug databases. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

New NIH Funding Guidelines Require Open Access, Restrict Unauthorized Alien Workers
The National Institutes of Health late last week issued new mandates for researchers it will fund in 2008. The new guidelines include a previously disclosed rule requiring scientists to make their research results publicly available, as well as a new policy intended to limit the spread of false scientific information and a restriction against employing unauthorized foreign workers.
In a notice outlining the 2008 funding mandates, the NIH said that it had also carried over several funding rules from fiscal 2007, including salary caps and a ban on funding embryonic stem cell research.
The first of the new rulings, the Public Access Requirement, states that NIH investigators must “submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.”
Another mandate states that no funds will be used to “disseminate scientific information that is deliberately false or misleading.” NIH noted that while this mandate was not included in previous appropriations acts, “it is similar to existing requirements concerning research integrity, fraud and false claims” and is not expected to “significantly impact the business practices at most institutions.”
The third new guideline, which prohibits employing unauthorized alien workers as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act, is likewise expected to have no significant impact at most institutions, NIH said, although it does encourage grantees “to review their current hiring and employment practices.”
Under the budget rules carried over from 2007, salaries for NIH-funded investigators may not go above Executive Level 1 on the federal pay scale, which is set to max out this year at $191,300, up from $186,600 last year.
The 2008 appropriations also continue the ban on funding involving the creation of human embryos for research purposes and research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded, or subjected to risks greater than those allowed for fetuses.

President's Proposed NIH Budget Draws Fire from Scientists, Politicians
The spending cuts for biomedical research proposed by US President George W. Bush in his budget request for 2009 have stirred up worries and sparked anger in the scientific community, causing researchers and interest groups to start speaking out, with some calling it an outrage and saying the future of US medical research is being sold short.
The chatter coming out of America’s labs is that NIH grants are increasingly harder to get, funding is falling for grants already awarded, and teaching hospitals where research is conducted are feeling the pinch.
Established leading researchers are spending far more time writing grants to fight over less money, and younger researchers are finding it harder to land those first coveted awards, according to a variety of researchers, politicians, and officials from biomedical organizations that Cell-Based Assay News sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News spoke with last week. The bleak outlook for federal funding of biomedical research may be deterring the next generation of young scientists from pursuing cutting-edge research at a time when US science is facing growing competition for a leading place in the future from surging research communities around the world, they said.
Under the 2009 request, which the White House released last week, the NIH would receive $29.5 billion, exactly the same sum it received in 2008, even though biomedical inflation this year has been estimated to be 3.5 percent. Also, roughly $300 million of that money is set aside specifically for the Global AIDS program, leaving the figure for actual research funding at around $28.6 billion.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this budget would “continue the downward slide in federal research funding” overall and would leave the NIH down 13 percent from its 2004 funding level, adjusting for biomedical inflation.
The biomedical research budget was not met with applause from members of the Democratic majority in Congress, who may engage in another fiscal donnybrook with President Bush similar to the one that left the 2008 budget for most federal programs stalled for three months.
Representative David Obey (D – Wisc.), who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations, which will present its version of the 2009 spending plan to the Senate this summer, called the president’s budget “a dreary and irresponsible re-run of those we have seen for the past eight years – missed opportunities, misplaced priorities, and fiscal fairy tales.”
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) responded to the White House’s budget in a statement that said that a “continued freeze on the National Institutes of Health funding will have grave consequences for Americans suffering from illnesses from cancer to diabetes. It will also mean that our best and brightest young minds will be discouraged from getting into our premier research field,” Harkin added.
AAAS estimates that if this budget passes there would be fewer new research grants in 2009 than in 2008, and the success rate for grant competitions would fall to 18 percent.
“We’re finding overall that it’s a much more competitive environment, researchers are spending a lot of time applying,” and have less time to spend in the lab, said Carrie Wolinetz, director of communications for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Wolinetz told GenomeWeb Daily News that younger researchers are feeling the bite of flat funding first, an assertion that is supported by comments form others in the biomedical community.
Steven Salzberg, who directs the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland, called the latest budget “very disappointing,” and said his office is beginning to feel the effects.
Salzberg said his center just hired two new bioinformatics scientists who are both struggling to get their first NIH and National Science Foundation grants, and like other young researchers are finding it difficult. He said he talks with young researchers “all the time” about their futures as academic researchers, and when it comes to flagging federal funds for cutting-edge studies, he grows concerned about the message being sent to the next generation of researchers.
As they survey the opportunities for biomedical careers, some researchers “might not feel inclined to go into academic research,” Salzburg told GenomeWeb Daily News.
The same problems are hitting home in the teaching hospitals of America, where many of the technologies of the future are given their first trials in clinical settings.
Funding cuts at NIH can cause “a serious problem for any academic research institute,” Keith Yehle, who is director of federal relations for the University of Kansas, told GWDN. “Flatline funding means we have less of an opportunity for our established NIH researchers to secure new competitive grants, and even established researchers don’t get full funding,” he said.
“But the biggest problem is not the established researcher; it’s the junior faculty who are just starting and who just go their PhD’s,” Yehle said. “They’re at risk of not being able to get their first or second research grant until they’re 41 years old.”
 The Association of American Medical Colleges, meanwhile, said that the White House’s “unprecedented” budget cuts will “erode medical progress” and that there “must be a stable and sustained federal investment in the NIH that at least keeps pace with biomedical inflation.” It added in a statement, that the impact of the proposed budget cuts “will have a damaging long-term impact on the health of all Americans and the future economic vitality of our nation. We call on Congress to immediately reject these short-sighted recommendations."
If this year turns out to be like the last, then Congress could propose an increased appropriation for the NIH and plan to fight over it with the Bush Administration.
“Ultimately, there will be a fight, and the election year certainly complicates matters,” Wolinetz said. However, she thinks it is unlikely that Congress will push Bush beyond the budget deadline in October again, as it did last 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.