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News Scan: Mar 20, 2009


Thermo Varioskan Readers Now Certified for Use with Life Tech's LanthaScreen

Thermo Fisher Scientific this week announced that its Varioskan Flash spectral scanning multimode reader has been certified for use with LanthaScreen assays from Invitrogen, a division of Life Technologies. The LanthaScreen assay is a time-resolved fluorescence energy transfer technology for drug discovery applications.

The Thermo Scientific Varioskan Flash features an automatic instrument calibration system, combined with automatic measurement control and diagnostics. It also has a multiwavelength measurement feature to measure donor and acceptor emissions in a simple and time-efficient manner, the company said. Furthermore, these assays can be run using low volume 384-well plates, making the combination of the Varioskan Flash and LanthaScreen applicable for screening purposes where low sample consumption is important.

NC Biotech Center Awards $100K for Drug Discovery COI

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center this week announced that it has awarded $100,000 for a virtual Drug Discovery Center of Innovation.

The COI, a multi-institution public-private partnership coordinated by the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, will initially focus on oncology to maximize its impact.

"This Center of Innovation will accelerate the development of new, safer drugs as we link cutting-edge research in North Carolina academic institutions with the needs of biotech and pharmaceutical companies," Rick Williams, chief business officer of Hamner and a member of the planning team, said in a statement.

The effort already has a long list of participants across the state. In addition to Hamner, charter members of the partnership are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, center for integrative chemical biology and drug discovery, center for nanotechnology in drug delivery), North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, East Carolina University, Campbell University, Duke University's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Wake Forest University.

"Academics are actively seeking mechanisms for translation of their discoveries toward the clinic, while the industry is struggling to continue supporting their own internal discovery efforts – providing an environment that is ripe for new models to advance the application of scientific knowledge to the treatment of disease. The COI is one such model," Stephen Frye, director of UNC's center for integrative chemical biology and drug discovery, said in a statement

The NC Biotechnology Center created the Centers of Innovation program to accelerate commercialization in the life sciences and create new businesses and jobs across the state.

This award is the fifth COI in the program. Other sectors of attention are nanobiotechnology, marine biotechnology, advanced medical technologies, and natural biotechnology and integrative medicine.

Life Technologies Cuts Staff at Foster City

Life Technologies has cut 75 positions at Applied Biosystems' facilities in Foster City, Calif., and will cut a further 40 employees in the summer, according to a notice posted on the website of California's Employment Development Department.

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The first group of cuts occurred in January, according to the website. Such job cuts are not unexpected in the wake of the roughly $5 billion merger of Invitrogen and ABI to form Life Technologies. Invitrogen said in October that it expects $80 million in synergies, mostly from cost savings, in the first year after closing the deal.

"The company stated that part of those synergies would be achieved through corporate overhead reductions, which unfortunately does include the elimination of redundant positions between the two legacy companies," the firm said in a statement e-mailed this week to CBA News sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News. "Life Technologies cannot confirm the number or timing of those workforce reductions," it added.

The firm has already closed ABI's corporate offices in Norwalk, Conn., as part of efforts to eliminate redundant operations.

Life Technologies currently employs around 9,500 people worldwide.

In a research note to investors this week, Leerink Swann analyst Isaac Ro said he believes Life Technologies' goal of reducing annual costs by $80 million by the end of 2009 is conservative. He noted that an initial $50 million in reductions thus far was achieved through "improved purchasing processes and headcount reductions."

Ro, who currently has an "outperform" rating on Life Technologies' stock, believes the firm will be a primary beneficiary among the life science tool providers of increased NIH funding. He noted that Life Technologies' management "has identified 20 percent of total sales as directly exposed to NIH funds, but we note that over 50 percent of sales are driven by academic/government labs."

Cenix Continues AstraZeneca Partnership

Cenix Bioscience will conduct a new research project with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals focused on using cell-based studies to validate cancer drug targets, Dresden, Germany-based Cenix said this week.

The project is the second between Cenix and AstraZeneca, and it will be conducted under the framework of the existing agreement between the companies.

Cenix will use RNAi-based gene silencing technology and high-content phenotypic analysis to conduct detailed cell-based studies for potential oncology drug candidates. Cenix said that it will use the Cellenger image analysis platform from Munich-based firm Definiens to adapt and implement multiparametric, microscopy-based analysis.

Cenix said in March of 2008 that it had struck an agreement to conduct screening for Astrazeneca that also involved high-content phenotypic analysis studies. The company said at the time that it expected the agreement to be the first in a series of collaborations.

"We welcome the chance to continue assisting AstraZeneca in the crucially important process of target validation to further advance their oncology pipeline," Christophe Echeverri, Cenix's CEO and chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

The company said that RNAi datasets now "offer a highly predictive and cost-effective basis for discovering and prioritizing targets for therapeutic drug development."

MultiCell Technologies Inks R&D Agreement with Maxim Biotech to Develop Hepatic Stem Cell, Cancer Products

MultiCell Technologies announced this week that it has entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with Maxim Biotech to develop products for the study of liver stem cells and liver cancer.

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MultiCell owns the rights to two issued US patents (6,872,389 and 6,129,911), one US patent application (US 2006/0019387A1), and several corresponding issued and pending foreign patents and patent applications related to the isolation and differentiation of liver stem cells.

The cooperative research and development agreement with Maxim Biotech will initially focus on the development of a family of reagent tool kits that can be used to isolate liver stem cells, and help to elucidate liver stem cell gene function and their encoded proteins.

MultiCell plans to further leverage this research effort involving liver stem cells to identify therapeutic targets, and diagnostic and prognostic markers of liver cancer. The company will also seek to develop and patent therapeutic product opportunities specifically targeting the treatment of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer.

Axxam Installs uHTS Workstation It Co-Developed with CyBio

CyBio and Axxam announced this week that they have developed, installed, and fully validated a new screening station to be used by Axxam in running hit discovery campaigns with automated luminescence and fluorescence screening systems.

The new workstation, which will run in parallel with another CyBio workstation, is a customized, multi-functional automation platform that allows flexible adaptation to different assay conditions using 384-well plates.

The two major work stations share a central CyBi-Well vario high-parallel pipetting system. The area includes a cooled storage system, peeler, sealer, and plate heating stations for compound management. The screening area comprises a pipetting system, a dispenser, a washer, high-capacity stacking and incubation devices with lid handling options, as well as two readers, a FLIPRTETRA from Molecular Devices, and a PHERAstarPlus from BMG Labtech.

All modules are integrated by a Stäubli 6-axis robot and a KiNEDx 4-axis robot.

The system as a whole is controlled by the CyBio Scheduler software, which manages automatic parallelization of processes, consistent system utilization, and time uniformity across screening.

PerkinElmer Inks Assay Deal with Korean University

PerkinElmer this week said that it has entered into a drug discovery research collaboration with Sangmyung University in Korea, which will use the firm's AequoScreen assay technology for G-protein coupled receptor research.

PerkinElmer said that the AequoScreen cell-based assays are used to detect GPCR activation and provide advantages over conventional fluorescence-based dyes, such as fewer false positives, simpler protocol, and increased assay windows.

The firm said that Sangmyung will use the assays as part of its efforts to establish an academic GPCR screening facility in collaboration with Korea Chemical Bank, which has a repository library of more than 100,000 small molecule compounds. The assays will be used as part of nationwide GPCR screening campaigns and drug discovery programs, said PerkinElmer.

Financial terms of the alliance were not disclosed.

The Scan

Taking Stock of the Stockpile

The US and European countries are evaluating their smallpox vaccine stockpiles as the number of monkeypox cases increases, the Washington Post reports.

Vitamin D From Tomatoes

According to Reuters, researchers in the UK have gene-edited tomatoes so their fruit contains vitamin D.

Cause Not Yet Spotted

NPR reports that a new study was unable to find a cause for persistent long COVID symptoms.

PNAS Papers on Central African Hunter-Gatherers, Myopia Development, Ancient Microtia Allele

In PNAS this week: population patterns among Central African hunter gatherers, effect of myopia-linked gene variant, and more.