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Asuragen, SensiGen, Clinical Oncology Society, Medco, LabCorp, Assay Depot, Nanostream

Asuragen to Develop Trial Dx, Potential Theranostic, for Merck Cancer Program
Asuragen Pharmacogenomic Services, a division of Asuragen, will develop a biomarker and pharmacogenomic test for a Merck cancer program, Asuragen said this week.
Terms of the deal call for Asuragen to apply information from an expression signature identified by Merck's oncology research program to develop a diagnostic assay for use in Merck's cancer clinical trials, and to “potentially form the basis for commercial companion diagnostic tests for oncology therapies.”
Under the agreement, Merck will pay Asuragen an undisclosed sum and could pay additional fees depending on the transfer of the diagnostic to clinical reference labs.
Asuragen said the test should be completed in 2008.

SensiGen Gains $300K in VC Cash to Develop, Sell Its PCR and Mass-Spec-Based Dx Tool
Molecular Diagnostics company SensiGen has received a $300,000 investment from Delaware Crossing Investor Group, a mid-Atlantic-based group of angel investors.
SensiGen, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., said it plans to use the funds to develop and sell its AttoSense molecular diagnostic technology, which blends PCR and mass spectrometry to identify biomarkers.
The company previously raised almost $3.5 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, its own management, and from other angel investors, it said.

Clinical Oncology Society Recommends Using Genomic Health's Oncotype DX
The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends using Genomic Health’s Oncotype DX breast cancer assay, according to an updated set of guidelines for using breast cancer tumor markers, the company said this week.
Oncotype DX is used to predict the likelihood of disease recurrence and whether a node-negative, estrogen-receptor positive tumor will respond to chemotherapy. In its updated guidelines, ASCO recommends using the test and “differentiated it as an optimal tool for breast cancer treatment selection," Steve Shak, chief medical officer at Genomic Health, said in a statement.
Genomic Health said ASCO included the test in its updated clinical practice guidelines based on “multiple independent clinical studies involving more than 2,600 breast cancer patients,” including studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
These guidelines, which serve as “a guide for doctors and outline appropriate methods of treatment,” were published online this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and will appear in the journal's Nov. 20 print edition, the company added.

Medco and LabCorp Will Use AmpliChip to Study PGx of Tamoxifen
Pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions and LabCorp will use Roche’s AmpliChip to study why some women react to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and other do not, LabCorp and Medco said this week.
Terms of the deal call for Medco to use Roche’s AmpliChip CYP450 test to study how tamoxifen is able to treat some forms of breast cancer while preventing the disease in certain high-risk populations. Approximately 10 percent of women using tamoxifen do not “fully benefit” from the drug because of variations in genes encoding drug metabolizing enzymes.
The firms penned their alliance in response to a US Food and Drug Administration advisory group’s recommendation last year that tamoxifen carry a warning label stating that it “may not work as well in postmenopausal women” who have a certain variant of the CYP450 gene family.
Medco Chief Medical Officer Robert Epstein said the license with LabCorp is part of a strategy to partner with personalized medicine companies.
Myla Lai-Goldman, chief scientific officer and medical director of LabCorp, added that the collaboration “will benefit patients and lower healthcare costs by improving outcomes, enhancing safety, and reducing ineffective drug regimens.”
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Last year, Medco penned a similar agreement with Mayo Clinic to study whether genetic tests gauging patients’ sensitivity to the anticoagulant warfarin is clinically and economically useful.

New Online Assay Shop Signs on Nanostream as Service Provider
Assay Depot, a soon-to-be-launched online "marketplace for drug-discovery services," has signed up Nanostream as a service provider, the companies said last week.
Assay Depot will allow customers to choose a particular assay, mail in test samples, and receive a data report "a few weeks later." The online shopping site will include "multiple service providers offering a wide range of drug-discovery services," the companies added.
Nanostream has developed assays for kinases, lipid-modifying enzymes, proteases, and cytochrome P450 enzymes.
“Bioassay support has increasingly become too labor-intensive and too time-consuming for drug discovery organizations, which has led researchers to outsource this costly function,” Nanostream COO Jonas Ekblom said in a statement.
Assay Depot offers "a virtual laboratory where researchers can conduct their drug-discovery programs," which streamlines the process for the customer and the service provider, he added.
Last week, Assay Depot said it raised $1.8 million in Series A financing, which it plans to use to launch its online service early next year.

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The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.