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Agilent, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Lentigen, Nastech Pharmaceutical, Dartmouth College, University of Bristol, Cenix Bioscience, Spotfire, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Sigma-Aldrich, Qiagen

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Agilent to Provide Oligo Libraries to CSHL for shRNA Library Generation
 
Agilent Technologies said this week that it has signed an agreement to provide oligonucleotide libraries to the Greg Hannon lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for use in further developing small-hairpin RNA libraries.
 
Hannon, along with Stephen Elledge at Harvard Medical School, had previously developed shRNA libraries against all genes in the human and mouse genomes. According to Agilent, it has developed technology capable of synthesizing as many as 55,000 oligos per library, with each oligo up to 200 base pairs in length.
 
“This means that we can provide … Hannon with high-quality starting material in a massively parallel fashion and at a cost significantly lower than current oligonucleotide synthesis technology,” Emily LeProust, a research and development chemistry manager for genomics at Agilent, said in a statement.
 
Specific terms of the arrangement between Agilent and CSHL were not disclosed.
 

 
Lentigen to Relocate Headquarters, Manufacturing Operations
 
Lentiviral vector technology firm Lentigen said this week that it is moving its corporate headquarters to a new facility in Gaithersburg, Md., from its current location in the University of Maryland Baltimore County TechCenter.
 
The new 26,000-square-foot facility will allow for simultaneous multi-product manufacture in compliance with current good manufacturing practices and EMEA regulatory standards, Lentigen said.
 

 
Nastech Begins Previously Announced Workforce Reductions
 
Nastech Pharmaceutical said this week that it has begun a previously announced workforce reduction plan.
 
"The workforce reduction of approximately 50 employees will enable us to drive our key clinical development and RNAi programs forward in a more efficient manner for the benefit of our shareholders,” Nastech Chairman and CEO Steven Quay said in a statement. "The savings by this action are estimated to be not less than $11 million during the 2008 fiscal year."
 
In November, Nastech announced that it would eliminate between 70 and 75 jobs to cut costs after the termination of a non-RNAi research and development collaboration with Procter & Gamble (see RNAi News, 11/15/2007). At the time, Nastech’s Quay noted that the spin out of the company’s RNAi assets into a new firm was not related to the restructuring.
 

 
microRNAs Touted as Key Players in Vertebrate Evolution
 
New research suggests microRNAs are behind the evolution of animals with backbones from their spineless predecessors, GenomeWeb Daily News, RNAi News’ sister publication, reported this week.
 
In contrast to the notion that genome duplication events alone resulted in vertebrate evolution, research by scientists at Dartmouth College and the University of Bristol in the UK suggests microRNAs — which are many and varied in vertebrates but scarce in invertebrates — may be behind the anatomical and genetic complexity associated with vertebrates. The paper appeared online in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
“There was an explosive increase in the number of new microRNAs added to the genome of vertebrates,” lead author Alysha Heimberg, a biologist at Dartmouth University, said in a statement. “This is unparalleled in evolutionary history.”
  
GenomeWeb Daily News reported that Heimberg and her colleagues used Northern analyses and genomic queries of miRBase and Blast searches with unassembled genomes to compare conserved miRNAs across several species — from early chordates to sharks, fish, and mice — and to try to trace the history of 129 “chordate-specific” miRNA families.
 
Two of these families, it seems, go all the way back to early chordates, the closest vertebrate precursors. This suggests that rapid miRNA acquisition occurred in two periods in vertebrate evolutionary history — once at the base of vertebrates and once along the stem-lineage leading to eutherian mammals — and are closely tied to vertebrate evolution, according to the researchers.
 
And while the team’s work does not completely rule out the possibility that genome duplication, which also increases the number of miRNAs, contributed to vertebrate complexity, they said it does provide a plausible alternative.
 
“No good evidence has been marshaled in support of the much-vaunted hypothesis that [genome duplication events] can confer increasing organismal complexity,” the authors wrote. “We suggest that changes in the global transcriptional status of the vertebrate genome … led to the dramatic increase in organismal complexity in this one metazoan lineage.”
 

 
Cenix Incorporates Spotfire Analytics Platform into RNAi Research Services
 
Spotfire, a division of Tibco Software, announced this week that Cenix Bioscience is using the Tibco Spotfire DXP 2.0 enterprise analytics platform in its RNAi-based research services.
 
“With the … platform, we can offer our clients faster and more accurate results because our scientists have the ability to mine these complex datasets much faster and in more depth, ask and answer questions on demand, pull information from multiple data sources, and integrate new information as it becomes available,” Maria Mirotsou, a group leader at Cenix, said in a statement.
 
Financial terms of the arrangement between Cenix and Spotfire were not disclosed.
 

 
Researchers Publish In Vitro Data Suggesting Potential of RNAi for Movement Disorder
 
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School last week published data showing that siRNA-based silencing of a mutant gene associated with the congenital movement disorder early-onset torsion dystonia could restore normal cellular function in vitro.
 
The data, which were reported in Human Molecular Genetics, suggest that the knockdown of mutant torsinA could potentially translate into a therapeutic against early-onset torsion dystonia.
 
According to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which is collaborating with the researchers, patients with early-onset torsion dystonia have a single copy of the wild-type torsinA gene and a single copy of the mutant torsinA gene.
 
“We are excited by these new data, which demonstrate the ability of RNAi therapeutics to readily discriminate between a disease target of interest, such as mutant torsinA, and a closely related gene, such as wild-type torsinA, thereby providing an important approach for the treatment of genetic disorders," Dinah Sah, senior director of research at Alnylam, said in a statement.
 

 
Sigma-Aldrich's Q4 Sales, Profits Rise
 
Sigma-Aldrich this week reported a 14.6 percent rise in fourth-quarter revenues, while profits climbed 18.6 percent for the three-month period ended Dec. 31.
 
The company said revenues climbed to $532.1 million from $464.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2006. Organic revenue growth was 5.5 percent, while currency effects added 6.8 percent and acquisitions added 2.3 percent to growth.
  
Sigma-Aldrich posted a profit of $84.9 million, or $0.64 per share, up from $71.6 million, or $0.53 per share, in the year-ago period.
 
The firm’s R&D expenses climbed 18 percent to $15.7 million from $13.3 million, while selling, general, and administrative costs rose 5 percent year over year to $131.6 million from $121.5 million.
 
For full-year 2007, Sigma-Aldrich brought in revenues of $2.04 billion, the first time the firm has eclipsed the $2 billion quarterly sales mark, and 13.3 percent higher than 2006 revenues of $1.8 billion.
 
Net income for the full year rose 12.4 percent to $311.1 million, or $2.34 per share, from $276.8 million, or $2.05 per share, in 2006.
 
Its R&D expenses for 2007 increased 12.1 percent to $59.3 million from $52.9 million, while SG&A costs climbed 11.3 percent to $517.1 million from $464.6 million.
 
Sigma-Aldrich finished the year with $237.6 million in cash and cash equivalents.
 
The firm expects to report 7 percent organic revenue growth for 2008.
 

 
Acquisitions Boost Qiagen's Q4 Revenues but Hurt Profits
 
Qiagen this week reported revenues of $210.2 million for the fourth quarter, a 67 percent increase over revenues of $125.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2006.
 
Qiagen’s top-line growth was aided by its $1.6 billion acquisition of Digene at the end of July. However, that acquisition, along with its $34 million purchase of eGene earlier in 2007, cut the firm’s profit for both the fourth quarter and the full year.
 
Qiagen posted a profit of $15 million, or $0.07 per share, compared with a profit of $19.4 million, or $0.13 per share, in Q4 2006. While the firm took charges related to acquisitions in both years, the charges in the fourth quarter of 2007 were much larger — $11.5 million versus roughly $3 million in the comparable period a year ago.
 
Qiagen’s research and development costs more than doubled year over year to $22.8 million from $11 million, while its selling, general, and administrative expenses climbed 80 percent to $79.4 million from $44.1 million.
 
For full-year 2007, Qiagen had revenues of $649.8 million, a 40 percent increase over revenues of $465.8 million in 2006.
 
The firm’s net income dropped 29 percent to $50.1 million, or $0.28 per share, from $70.5 million, or $0.46 per share. For full-year 2007, Qiagen took acquisition- and integration-related charges of $48.8 million compared to similar charges of around $12.3 million in 2006. Excluding the charges, Qiagen’s earnings per share for the year would have been $0.63 versus $0.56 in 2006.
 
Qiagen’s R&D expenses rose 56 percent to $64.9 million from $41.6 million in 2006, while SG&A costs increased 43.8 percent to $236.6 million from $164.5 million.
  
Qiagen finished the year with $347.3 million in cash and cash equivalents.
 
The firm expects 2008 revenue growth of between $875 million and $905 million.

The Scan

Gone, But Now Reconstructed SARS-CoV-2 Genomes

In a preprint, a researcher describes his recovery of viral sequences that had been removed from a common database.

Rare Heart Inflammation Warning

The Food and Drug Administration is adding a warning about links between a rare inflammatory heart condition and two SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, Reuters reports.

Sandwich Sampling

The New York Times sent tuna sandwiches for PCR analysis.

Nature Papers Describe Gut Viruses, New Format for Storing Quantitative Genomic Data, More

In Nature this week: catalog of DNA viruses of the human gut microbiome, new dense depth data dump format to store quantitative genomic data, and more.