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News Scan: Jan 16, 2009

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Cellartis, WARF Sign hESC Licensing Deal

Cellartis and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation announced this week that they have signed a license for human embryonic stem cell patents that enables Cellartis to commercialize undifferentiated hESC products in the US.

Mats Lundwall, Cellartis CEO, said in a statement that, "This license opens the door to the large and important US market, alongside additional emerging partnering opportunities in the US, which fits well into our growth strategy."

"The expansion of Cellartis's business strategy complements WARF's goals for supporting growth in the human stem cell industry," Andy DeTienne, WARF's licensing manager for stem cell technologies, said in a statement. He also mentioned that this licensing agreement with Cellartis reflects the fact that commercial interest in human embryonic stem cells continues to be strong.


EpiCept Ceases Drug Development and Announces Layoffs

EpiCept announced this week that it is discontinuing all drug-discovery activities and implementing an approximate 65 percent reduction in its workforce. EpiCept will direct its resources toward the registration of Ceplene in North America and clinical development programs. These actions are expected to reduce annual expenses by at least $5.5 million.

Under the workforce-reduction plan, most of the affected positions will be eliminated immediately, and the remainder will be eliminated over the next three to six months. The Company expects to incur a one-time charge during the first quarter of 2009 of approximately $2.5 million in connection with the closing of the San Diego facility. EpiCept plans to offer the proprietary ASAP drug discovery technology for sale or partnering.


Sigma-Aldrich Pays Sangamo $1M Zinc Finger Milestone

Sigma-Aldrich has paid Sangamo BioSciences a $1 million milestone as part of a deal for Sangamo to develop zinc finger nuclease reagents for the research market, Sangamo said this week.

The payment was a production milestone under an agreement the companies made in July 2007.

ZFNs can be designed to target any gene in any organism, Sangamo said, and can be used to rapidly make precise changes to a cell's characteristics.

David Smoller, president of Sigma-Aldrich's Research Biotech business, said in a statement that the reagent platform, which it will market, will provide researchers with "the ability to precisely manipulate the genome of living cells, resulting in cell lines or whole organisms with defined gene deletions, insertions, or corrections."


BioTek Cuts Ribbon on UK Site

BioTek Instruments announced this week the establishment of BioTek Instruments Ltd. in the United Kingdom. The new organization will focus on growing BioTek's brand and direct customer base in the UK, while supporting the efforts of Thermo Fisher UK related to BioTek's microplate instruments and technologies.

Mike Todd and Colin Fallowfield, co-founders of Leeds, UK-based Northstar Scientific, have been associated with BioTek for more than 10 years, and have been named as directors of BioTek Instruments Ltd.

Todd previously worked for PerkinElmer selling analytical and life science instruments, primarily specializing in UV/visible spectroscopy and other optical systems. He co-founded Northstar Scientific Ltd in 2002 with Fallowfield.

Fallowfield was previously a protein biochemist and kineticist in drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline Research.


Burnham to Study Drug Targets for J&J

The Burnham Institute for Medical Research has inked an assay-development and license agreement with Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development that will give the drug maker access to some of Burnham's high-throughput screening technologies to study drug targets for inflammatory diseases, Burnham said this week.

Burnham CEO John Reed said in a statement that he thinks the collaboration, which is the institute's first with a large pharma, "will foster the discovery of drug products with real clinical potential."

Financial terms of the multi-year agreement were not released.

The Scan

Booster Push

New data shows a decline in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine efficacy over time, which the New York Times says Pfizer is using to argue its case for a booster, even as the lower efficacy remains high.

With Help from Mr. Fluffington, PurrhD

Cats could make good study animals for genetic research, the University of Missouri's Leslie Lyons tells the Atlantic.

Man Charged With Threatening to Harm Fauci, Collins

The Hill reports that Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., was charged with making threats against federal officials.

Nature Papers Present Approach to Find Natural Products, Method to ID Cancer Driver Mutations, More

In Nature this week: combination of cryogenic electron microscopy with genome mining helps uncover natural products, driver mutations in cancer, and more.