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Canary Foundation, BC Cancer Foundation, OGeS, Oxford University, CST, AstraZeneca, Biacore, Bio-Rad, Erasmus Medical Center, Wyeth, Scottish Enterprise, Invitrogen, Signalomics


Canary Foundation Gives $860K to BC Cancer Foundation to Develop Ovarian Cancer Blood Test

The Canary Foundation has given CA$1 million ($860,000) to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation to develop a blood test for the early detection of ovarian cancer, the organization said last week.

The funding will be used by the BC Cancer Agency on Vancouver Island as part of a collaborative research project involving multiple institutions.

According to Don Listwin, founder of the Canary Foundation, Michael Ball, CEO of proteomics software company GenoLogics was "instrumental" in encouraging the donation. "Initially, a common vision for the future of early cancer detection using proteomics research connected us," Listwin said in a statement.

Besides the BC Cancer Agency, the project involves researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Stanford University; the University of Southern California; the University of California, San Francisco; and Intel.

OGeS to Develop Colorectal Cancer Biomarkers With Oxford University Researchers, Joins GE Consortium

Oxford Genome Sciences and researchers at the Department of Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Oxford are collaborating to discover clinical biomarkers for colorectal cancer, OGeS said this week.

In forming the collaboration, OGeS joins an ongoing research consortium between the University of Oxford and GE Healthcare to develop personalized diagnostic tests and treatments for colorectal cancer. The consortium was founded last fall with funding from GE Healthcare.

Under the two-year agreement, OGeS will use its proteomics technology and Oxford Genome Anatomy Project protein database to discover diagnostics for early- and late-stage colorectal cancer, and to identify protein biomarkers of recurring colorectal cancer. OGeS will analyze protein profiles of blood samples, as well as genetic variations and risk factors, from colorectal cancer patients.

Last week, OGeS and Biosite said they were also collaborating to develop new diagnostics for relapsing colorectal cancer.

CST, AstraZeneca Ink Third Phosphorylation-Profiling Deal

Cell Signaling Technology has signed a third agreement with AstraZeneca to continue providing the drug maker with phosphorylation profiles and prospective biomarkers of kinase-targeted lead compounds, the company said this week.

CST announced similar agreements this January and in June 2004.

According to its most recent statement, it will use its PhosphoScan technology to provide AstraZeneca with information that could enable it to clinically develop biomarker assays for target validation and therapeutic kinase inhibitors.

CST also said that it has recently added methods for serine/threonine kinase PhosphoScan profiling to its capabilities.

Biacore Says Q1 2006 Sales Exceeded Expectations

Biacore said this week that sales for the first quarter of 2006 were "better than current market expectations."

Biacore, based in Uppsala, Sweden, said that its Q1 sales increased by 19 percent over the same period in 2005. The company had previously anticipated a slowdown in revenues in the early part of 2006 following a record 23-percent increase in year-over-year sales in Q4 2005.

At the time, Biacore said it expected 2006 sales to increase "at approximately the same rate as in 2005 with modest growth in the first quarter."

Further details were not disclosed. Biacore will release its full earnings report on May 4.

Bio-Rad Updates KnowItAll for Launch This Month; June Release Will Have Additional Capabilities

Bio-Rad has finished integrating one of two technologies into its KnowItAll informatics platform and will launch it this month, and plans to incorporate the second technology into the informatics system for the June launch of a new version of the product.

Last month at the Pittcon conference, Bio-Rad pre-launched the first product, integrated with Infometrix' Pirouette chemometrics technology, and plans to formally roll it out sometime this month, according to a company spokesperson.

Bio-Rad has not yet completed integrating the second platform, the Molecular Structure Activity Relationships molecular-modeling technology, made by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said Kernan. The addition of that technology, which was developed by CSIRO's Division of Molecular and Health Technologies, will be completed before the June launch of an updated version of KnowItAll, said Kernan.

Erasmus Medical Center Uses SGI System for Data Visualization

Erasmus Medical Center said this week that it has added server and visualization systems from Silicon Graphics to its hospital and research facility in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The new SGI systems will be used to support I-space, an immersive, interactive environment developed at Erasmus Medical Center that runs software designed to convert 2D medical images into 3D. The center is using the system for genomic and proteomic data mining, as well as for visualizing MRI scans, CT scans, and ultrasound images.

"There are eight graphics pipes in the [I-space] system — you are actually standing inside the data — so we required a visualization computer that is powerful enough to really do the rendering of the 3D software in a very efficient way, and only SGI had the appropriate solution," said Ronald Nanninga, founder and managing director of Crosslinks, a spin off of Erasmus Medical Center that is marketing the I-space technology, in a statement.

The prototype I-space system runs on a Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system with 8 Intel Itanium 2 processors, 8 ATI FireGL graphics processors, and 12 GB of memory. The medical center also runs a 32-processor SGI Origin 3800 server.

Financial terms of the deal with SGI were not disclosed.

Wyeth, Scottish Enterprise Pledge $86M for New Translational Research Collaboration

Scotland's economic development agency Scottish Enterprise and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals plan to set up a translational medicine research collaboration in Scotland, the groups said last week.

According to Scottish Enterprise, Wyeth will invest approximately $57 million, while the agency has pledged up to $30 million over the next five years.

The collaboration will pair Wyeth and National Health Service Scotland with the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, in an effort to use Scottish resources to develop new drugs and diagnostics, with an emphasis on clinical trials.

Specifically, the partnership will create a 50-employee central research lab at the University of Dundee to coordinate clinical research with labs at the other member universities.

Wyeth and Scottish Enterprise said they have the option to extend their collaboration for another five years after the first period of the project concludes.

Invitrogen and Signalomics to Co-Develop Cancer Diagnostic Reagents …

Invitrogen and Signalomics of Germany will collaborate to develop nanocrystal reagents for cancer diagnostics, Invitrogen said this week.

Initially, the partners want to develop an imaging agent that can be used to identify colon carcinomas that require surgery.

Signalomics, based in Steinfurt, has been developing in vivo diagnostics based on designer proteins coupled to fluorescent semiconductor crystals. The proteins target faulty signaling proteins that are expressed in tumor tissues. In the body, they can be visualized by a laser light that makes the crystal-protein conjugates emit light in different colors.

The agreement allows Signalomics to continue its collaboration with BioPixels, which Invitrogen acquired in October. Signalomics has been working with BioPixels, a former business unit of BioCrystal, since 2004.

… as Invitrogen, Building Dx Play, 'Welcomes' Competition from Emerging Rivals

Invitrogen, aiming to expand into the molecular diagnostics market, "welcomes" existing and impending competition from small, private shops, a company official said this week at BIO 2006, held in Chicago.

Todd Nelson, vice president of corporate development at the life sciences powerhouse, said during a molecular diagnostics session that these companies will eventually become "collaboration" opportunities for Invitrogen, which has grown in size and scope in recent years by adhering to a diet of steady acquisitions.

Nelson, a session panelist, said he is "thrilled" that privately held companies have been developing technologies to play in a space for which Invitrogen is gunning. Specifically, he said he is glad that as these companies grow, they are transferring the "burden" of risk to venture capital companies — and presumably off of potential suitors — which will enable them to develop a wide array of diagnostic technology.

When these technologies are developed, Nelson said, "we can start collaborating with them."

Nelson made his remarks after Jorge Leon, president of the consultancy Leomics Associates and acting chief scientific officer of Orion Genomics, remarked to the panel that many startup companies — he singled out Orion Genomics and three others — are eating into the molecular diagnostics market. Leon, who identified himself as a diagnostics consultant, then asked what companies like Invitrogen and Roche Diagnostics, represented on the panel by Chris Meda, vice president of business development, are doing about it.

"We welcome" these companies, said Nelson. Meda agreed.

To be sure, Nelson's remarks do not necessarily signal that Invitrogen has a molecular diagnostics acquisition in the breech. And though Invitrogen has not disclosed its specific intentions for the market, CEO Greg Lucier has publicly said that the firm has no plans to become a clinical diagnostics company. In the past, he said if Invitrogen wanted to buy a clinical diagnostics business it has the resources to do it, but it has no plans to take the company in that direction. Lucier had also said the company would not buy a contract research organization.

Dx Foundation

Invitrogen's interest in the molecular diagnostics industry has been building over the past couple of years and the company has made a string of acquisitions to bolster that play. In particular, its purchases of Molecular Probes in 2003 and its acquisitions of Dynal, Caltag, and BioSource last year were made with an eye on grabbing a chunk of the molecular diagnostics market.

The firm furthered this goal in January when it realigned its BioDiscovery unit into two divisions, Life Sciences and Enabling Technologies. The Enabling Technologies division, which now primarily targets the research market, will focus on nanotechnology, imaging and microscopy, cell separation and analysis, labeling and detection, bead-based separations, and the firm's antibody center of excellence. Invitrogen said this division will include its Molecular Probes, Dynal, BioSource, and Quantum Dot products — all of which Invitrogen acquired over the past two years.

At the time, Lucier said, "If you look at the capabilities in that business, it's really set up for broader applications," and cited molecular diagnostics as a field that would be served by the technologies that have been placed together in that division.

The realignment occurred after Invitrogen penned a pair of high-profile biomarker-discovery pacts last year with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Mayo Clinic. Invitrogen did not outline its specific objectives for these alliances, saying only that they will help the company adopt a "patient-centric" view, in the words of David Odelson, Invitrogen's director of corporate development, according to ProteoMonitor's sister publication BioCommerce Week.

In a separate interview with BioCommerce Week at the time, Claude Benchimol, Invitrogen's senior vice president of research and development, said the firm hopes to expand its presence in the clinical market — a strategy that included the creation of a corporate research laboratory.

"We want to become more medically relevant and closer to our customers," Benchimol had said. "We want to engage in collaboration with academic and research institutions, as well as other customers to help solve big problems."

Though Invitrogen remains tight-lipped about its molecular diagnostics plans, Nelson, the corporate development VP, said at BIO 2006 today that one area of interest for the company could be "enabling" pharmaceutical companies that want to partner with diagnostic shops to develop companion drug-diagnostic products, or so-called theranostics. According to Nelson, this is an area of "exceptional growth."

Another hint of the company's interest in molecular diagnostics could be gauged from the fact that three out of the seven sessions at BIO in which Invitrogen was slated to participate focused on diagnostics (the others comprised two for stem cell medicine, and one each for translational medicine and general drug discovery and development).

Nelson also said the company plans to launch its CISH (chromogenic in situ hybridization technology) pathology products, which it inherited from Zymed after acquiring the company in January 2005 for $60 million. He did not say when the company will roll out the line.

In the end, Nelson's answer to Leon's question during the BIO session might encourage privately held diagnostics companies to continue developing their technologies, and embolden venture capitalists to invest more in these small shops. According to some insiders, the industry could use a kick in the pants.

"Diagnostics in the 20th century [were] embarrassingly bad," John Ioannidis, a professor at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, said during a session at Cambridge Healthtech's Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco in February. "I think the tests we have available show poor performance; they don't provide useful information in the clinical setting. For most diseases we are almost at a loss."

Orion Genomics' Leon added at that conference that, in particular, "the cancer diagnostic market is really pathetic."

An Invitrogen spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— KL

The Scan

Germline-Targeting HIV Vaccine Shows Promise in Phase I Trial

A National Institutes of Health-led team reports in Science that a broadly neutralizing antibody HIV vaccine induced bnAb precursors in 97 percent of those given the vaccine.

Study Uncovers Genetic Mutation in Childhood Glaucoma

A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation ties a heterozygous missense variant in thrombospondin 1 to childhood glaucoma.

Gene Co-Expression Database for Humans, Model Organisms Gets Update

GeneFriends has been updated to include gene and transcript co-expression networks based on RNA-seq data from 46,475 human and 34,322 mouse samples, a new paper in Nucleic Acids Research says.

New Study Investigates Genomics of Fanconi Anemia Repair Pathway in Cancer

A Rockefeller University team reports in Nature that FA repair deficiency leads to structural variants that can contribute to genomic instability.