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News Scan: Jan 11, 2009

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Phylonix Snags $1.25M NIGMS Grant to Develop Zebrafish Drug Interaction Test

Phylonix Pharmaceuticals has received a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences that it will use to develop its drug-interaction testing technology.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based contract research organization will use the $1.25 million grant to develop in vivo zebrafish assays that will assess drug effects using cytochrome P450 profiling. The company markets and is developing screens to identify drug candidates for cancers, central nervous system disorders, cardiovascular diseases, apoptosis, and organ toxicity.

Because of their genetic and physiological similarity to humans, zebrafish have been shown to be an efficient, predictive animal model for assessing drug metabolism and drug safety, Phylonix said.

"A rapid and robust whole zebrafish CYP assay, amenable to automation in multiwell plate formats, will accelerate drug metabolism and safety profiling and reduce the possibility of costly late-stage drug development failures or product market withdrawal after commercialization," Phylonix CEO Patricia McGrath said in statement.


BioSeek Expands Plan to Screen Potential Drug Compounds for UCB

BioSeek said this week that it has renewed and expanded an agreement to profile and guide optimization of lead compounds for the drug company UCB.

South San Francisco, Calif.-based BioSeek said it will profile selected chemical and biological entities and guide lead optimization of a specific phenotypic hit identified by UCB and characterized using the company’s BioMap screens.

Under the one-year agreement, which expands a 2007 pact, BioSeek will receive an up-front licensing fee, funding for research, and both clinical and preclinical milestone payments based on candidate advancement using the BioMap platform.

The BioMap System uses predictive human cell-based models to generate activity profiles of potential drug candidates.

“Our 2007 collaboration identified specific areas of high interest to UCB where the BioMap platform could be productively applied to UCB projects, and those form the basis of the new agreement encompassing two major programs in bioactive annotation and lead optimization,” BioSeek CEO Michael Venuti said in a statement. “By focusing on pharmacological outcome in a defined set of validated human cell-based screens, novel bioactivity can be detected, and anecdotally observed activity can be optimized.”

UCB’s primary focus is on developing drugs to treat central nervous system disorders, inflammation, and cancer.


RainDance, Harvard Share Grant to Develop Cell Sorter

RainDance Technologies said this week that it will share a $750,000 grant from The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center with a Harvard researcher David Weitz to develop a new fluorescence-activated cell sorter.

The Lexington, Mass.-based firm said that the MLSC awarded a grant of $250,000 per year for three years to the firm and Weitz, a physics professor in Harvard’s school of engineering and applied sciences and physics department. The partners plan to develop and demonstrate the use of a new form of the cell sorter that incorporates RainDance’s RainStorm micro-droplet technology.

Raindance was one of six projects to receive funding totaling $3.7 million from the MLSC. The awards will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the industry partners involved with each collaboration.

Chris McNary, president and CEO of RainDance, noted that the latest project expands the initial applications for the RainStorm technology, which thus far has been applied to targeted genomic resequencing as well as high-throughput screening and small molecule storage for the drug discovery market.


BioFocus Announces ‘Enhanced’ HCS Capabilities

BioFocus DPI this week announced that it has “significantly” enhanced its high-content screening capabilities through the implementation of precision liquid handling instruments and advanced cell imaging devices.

The company also said that its newly acquired Caliper Zephyr liquid handling instrument, and wide-field (GE Healthcare IN Cell Analyzer 1000) and confocal (BD Pathway) imaging devices have increased both the throughput and quality of its high-content screening and imaging capabilities. BioFocus DPI can then further develop customized, biologically-relevant assays for partners’ discovery programs.

“Through continued investment in our high-content screening capabilities, we aim to meet the growing customer demand for information-rich small molecule and target screening,” Kate Hilyard, VP Biological Sciences, BioFocus DPI , said in a statement. “These latest instruments extend our ability to monitor molecular events in complex, cell-based assays over long periods, thereby enriching our understanding of how and when a compound or protein plays a role in a disease process.”

The Scan

Pfizer-BioNTech Seek Full Vaccine Approval

According to the New York Times, Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking full US Food and Drug Administration approval for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Viral Integration Study Critiqued

Science writes that a paper reporting that SARS-CoV-2 can occasionally integrate into the host genome is drawing criticism.

Giraffe Species Debate

The Scientist reports that a new analysis aiming to end the discussion of how many giraffe species there are has only continued it.

Science Papers Examine Factors Shaping SARS-CoV-2 Spread, Give Insight Into Bacterial Evolution

In Science this week: genomic analysis points to role of human behavior in SARS-CoV-2 spread, and more.