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News Scan: Jan 2, 2009

Wellcome Trust Gives $5.9M to Fund UK, US Chemical Probe Partnership
The Wellcome Trust will fund a new research partnership led by the Structural Genomics Consortium, which will include public and private efforts in the UK and US, that will focus on developing chemical probes involved in epigenetic signaling.
The Wellcome Trust has pledged £4.1 million ($5.9 million) to fund the project, which will involve collaboration with the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, the National Institutes of Health’s Chemical Genomics Center, and researchers at the University of Oxford’s departments of chemistry and biochemistry.
The partnership will attempt to generate small molecule inhibitors that can stimulate or block the activity of around 25 proteins, “specifically designed to affect the activity of proteins involved in epigenetic control,” the Wellcome Trust said.
The NCGC will contribute by developing assays and offering high-throughput screening and medicinal chemistry.
The partners also said that the structure and function of the chemical probes will be made freely available to researchers.
"Industry and academia both stand to benefit from this relationship," Wellcome Trust’s Head of Molecular and Physiological Sciences, Alan Schafer, said in a statement. "The academic community will have access to the sophisticated research tools generally only available to industrial partners, and the resultant application in academic research will serve to further stimulate drug development by pharmaceutical companies.”
The chemical probes that the partners aim to develop will complement genetic knockouts and RNAi approaches to understand the roles certain proteins play in biology. These will need to be highly selective for their target proteins and will need to be usable in cellular settings.

NINDS, NIAAA, NIDA to Fund Small-Molecule Probe Studies of Neurological & Drug-Related Diseases
Three institutes of the National Institutes of Health plan to fund molecular and genomics studies aimed at developing small-molecule probes that could be used to study biological functioning in the nervous system, specifically in order to develop pharmacological therapeutic targets.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse will grant a total of $1.75 million in fiscal 2009 to support up to eight studies using molecular, genomic, and other sciences.
These investigators will already have identified probe candidates by small-molecule screening, will use in vitro assays designed for these collections, and will show how the structures of these small molecules are related to their biological activity.
In the coming year, NINDS will grant roughly $1 million for four studies, NIAAA will provide around $250,000 for one award, and NIDA will give around $500,000 for two or three awards.
Researchers could use the funds to study gene expression in the nervous system, including effects on transcription, translation, or RNA splicing, and protein interactions that effect glial cell signaling.
Studies also could focus on cellular or molecular phenotypes that are relevant to nervous system functioning, as well as therapeutic targets associated with neurological disorders, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Nervous system function studies in model organisms such as Drosophila, C. elegans, and zebrafish also may receive funding.
Any in vitro testing methodologies the researchers propose should already have been developed, characterized, and implemented in a medium- or high-throughput screening program in which hit compounds to a proposed target were identified and characterized.
Researchers should already have identified one or more distinct small molecules, and should have a strategy for probe design and for small-molecule acquisition.

Thermo Fisher Buys Facility for $14M
Thermo Fisher Scientific has purchased a building that it had been leasing in Franklin, Mass., for around $14 million, according to real estate transaction tracker CoStar Group.
The property is a 110,756-square-foot, one-story industrial building that sits on nearly 17 acres of land.
Thermo bought the property from Embarcadero Capital.

Shiloh Labs Lands $50K To Develop Stem Cell Reagent
Madison, Wisc.-based Shiloh Laboratories has received a $50,000 grant from the state to further develop its growth factor supplement for growing stem cells in culture, the governor's office confirmed last week.
According to the company, the growth factor supplement would allow scientists to feed their stem cell cultures every three days instead of every day.
Shiloh plans to have the supplement on the market by the end of the year.
The company said that it also has applied for a federal innovation grant and for funds from Madison Development Corp., a $12 million nonprofit economic development organization. 

Sangamo Licenses Zinc Finger Nuclease Reagents to Pfizer
Sangamo BioSciences last week said that it has licensed to Pfizer the use of certain zinc finger protein nuclease reagents for use in clinical and commercial production of therapeutic proteins.
The Richmond, Calif.-based firm said that it had licensed to Pfizer non-exclusive, worldwide rights to use the reagents to permanently eliminate the glutamine synthetase gene in Chinese hamster ovary cell lines. The cells will be used for producing the therapeutic proteins.
Sangamo will receive an upfront payment of $3 million from Pfizer under terms of the pact. The license is royalty-free, Sangamo noted.
“Based upon our ability to design ZFNs to any gene, we believe that this is one of many future agreements we may establish, applying our ZFN technology in the commercial production of protein-based pharmaceuticals,” Edward Lanphier, Sangamo’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The Scan

Study Reveals New Details About Genetics of Major Cause of Female Infertility

Researchers in Nature Medicine conducted a whole-exome sequencing study of mote than a thousand patients with premature ovarian insufficiency.

Circulating Tumor DNA Shows Potential as Biomarker in Rare Childhood Cancer

A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that circulating tumor DNA levels in rhabdomyosarcoma may serve as a biomarker for prognosis.

Study Recommends Cancer Screening for Dogs Beginning Age Seven, Depending on Breed

PetDx researchers report in PLOS One that annual cancer screening for dogs should begin by age seven.

White-Tailed Deer Harbor SARS-CoV-2 Variants No Longer Infecting Humans, Study Finds

A new study in PNAS has found that white-tailed deer could act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 variants no longer found among humans.