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UK Consortium, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Roche, OSI, Aveo, Southern Research Institute, Argenta, CellCentric, Pfizer

UK Consortium Launches SC4SM Initiative
Stem Cells for Safer Medicines (SC4SM), a UK initiative to use stem cells for the safety testing of potential new drugs, was launched this week.
Stem Cells for Safer Medicines, an independent, not-for-profit company, was
founded via a consortium attracting both public and industry investment, including three major international pharmaceutical companies —GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Roche.
SC4SM also called for proposals from research partners interested in developing
techniques to use stem cells for early safety testing of new medicines.
Initiated by the UK’s Department of Health and led by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, SC4SM is also supported by the Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills; the Scottish government; the Medical Research Council; and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The call for proposals launched this week, available here, is the first phase of a five-year program, and seeks to address particular hurdles in the differentiation of liver cells from existing stem cell lines.
In parallel, an independent scientific advisory board, chaired by Glyn Stacey, director of the UK Stem Cell Bank and head of the cell biology and imaging division of the UK’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control will provide advice and map out the longer-term scientific program.
The partnership will operate in accordance with the standards established by the UK Stem Cell Bank and will only use “ethically sourced” stem cell lines already banked, or registered to be banked. In early 2008, an independent ethical advisory board will be established to audit and review the policy and advise the Consortium’s membership.

OSI and Aveo Ink Drug Discovery and Translational Research Deal
OSI Pharmaceuticals and Aveo Pharmaceuticals this week announced that they have entered into a small-molecule drug discovery and translational research collaboration.
The alliance is anchored around developing molecular therapies that target the underlying mechanisms of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in cancer, the focal point of OSI's proprietary oncology research efforts.
The companies will develop proprietary target-driven tumor models for use in drug screening and biomarker validation, and plan to use these systems in support of OSI’s drug discovery and clinical programs.
Under the terms of the agreement, OSI will pay Aveo $10 million in cash and will purchase equity valued at approximately $5 million. OSI will also pay Aveo research funding, and milestones and royalties upon successful development and commercialization of products from the collaboration.
As part of the collaboration, OSI will provide expertise in defining EMT in both Aveo models and in human tumor tissue. Aveo will provide access to its databases of tumor targets identified from genetic screens, focusing on tumor maintenance genes that drive EMT. Aveo will further utilize its HRP platform to develop in vivo tumor models driven by the EMT target genes of interest, validate key EMT targets, and create tools for drug discovery and translational research.
OSI will conduct small-molecule drug discovery programs on a defined number of EMT and tumor-maintenance targets validated by Aveo. The companies will collaborate on translational research concerning key OSI development programs. OSI will be responsible for the development and commercialization of all clinical candidates from the collaboration. Rights to antibodies and antibody-related biologics against those targets are retained by Aveo.

SRI Lands NIMH Funds to Identify NF-kB Activators
Southern Research Institute this week announced that it has received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to identify small molecules that activate NF-kB, a transcription factor that could lead to the development of novel treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Maurizio Grimaldi, leader of the neuropharmacology laboratory in the SRI drug discovery division’s department of biochemistry, will lead the project. Researchers will use what SRI says is a novel approach based on an assay developed at the institute and high-throughput screening technologies.
Research findings suggest that the NF-kB signaling system plays a role in neuronal resilience and in the changes induced by cellular learning such as long-term potentiation and depression. Several reports have shown that knocking out NF-kB activity in the brain causes sensitization to toxic stimuli such as beta-amyloid excitatory amino acids and trauma. In addition, NF-kB is a known anti-apoptosis mechanism.   

Argenta, CellCentric Ink Collaborative Fee-for-Service Deal
Argenta Discovery this week announced that it has entered into a fee-for-service collaboration with CellCentric.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement does provide options to expand the relationship.
Under the terms of the agreement, scientists from the two companies will exploit Argenta’s expertise in virtual screening, molecular biology, biochemical assay development, and in vitro screening to discover inhibitors for two potential epigenetic-related therapeutic targets.

Pfizer Launches Biotherapeutics and BioinnovationCenter
Pfizer this week announced the launch of its independent, stand-alone biotherapeutics and bioinnovation center under the leadership of Corey Goodman.
The center will focus on discovering new drugs as well as securing new technologies and research tools that can be used across all of Pfizer's therapeutic areas.
Pfizer said the center will work in a highly collaborative manner both with Pfizer Global R&D and with the academic, biotech, and venture communities. It will focus on delivering new compounds for Pfizer, and also on incubating start-ups with new innovative technologies. (see also Migrations, this issue)

The Scan

International Team Proposes Checklist for Returning Genomic Research Results

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics present a checklist to guide the return of genomic research results to study participants.

Study Presents New Insights Into How Cancer Cells Overcome Telomere Shortening

Researchers report in Nucleic Acids Research that ATRX-deficient cancer cells have increased activity of the alternative lengthening of telomeres pathway.

Researchers Link Telomere Length With Alzheimer's Disease

Within UK Biobank participants, longer leukocyte telomere length is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, according to a new study in PLOS One.

Nucleotide Base Detected on Near-Earth Asteroid

Among other intriguing compounds, researchers find the nucleotide uracil, a component of RNA sequences, in samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, as they report in Nature Communications.