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Asuragen, Dharmacon, Amaxa, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, SR Pharma, GSK, Galapagos

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Asuragen Closes $49M Financing Round

Asuragen, which was formed earlier this year out of the diagnostics and services divisions of Ambion, said this week that it has secured $49 million in Series A financing.

The funds will be used to support its general operating needs and "to pursue strategic licenses relating to the development of its cancer diagnostic and therapeutic programs," the company said.

Asuragen was established in January after Applied Biosystems acquired the research products division of Ambion for $273 million in cash (see RNAi News, 1/12/2006). The diagnostics and services division of Ambion were then spun out as Asuragen by Ambion founder Matt Winkler.

According to Asuragen, the financing round was led by Telegraph Hill Partners and included Growth Capital Partners, as well as other firms that invested in Ambion.


Dharmacon, Amaxa Form Co-Promotion Alliance

Dharmacon and Amaxa said this week that they have signed a deal to co-promote data generated using Dharmacon's siRNA libraries with Amaxa's Nucleofector technology.

"We will work closely with Amaxa to provide our customers with coordinated technical service, pre-tested protocols, and application models to optimize the use of our siRNA reagents with the Amaxa technology," Bill Marshall, vice president of technology and business development for Dharmacon parent Fisher Biosciences, said in a statement.

Specific terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.


RNAi Pioneers Publish Discovery of New Class of Small Non-Coding RNAs

Two teams of researchers led by RNAi pioneers separately published in this week's Nature the discovery of a new class of small RNAs — termed Piwi-interacting RNAs, or piRNAs — adding to the growing list of non-coding RNAs at work within mammals.

"Small RNAs associate with Argonaute proteins and serve as sequence-specific guides to regulate messenger RNA stability, protein synthesis, chromatin organization, and genome structure," Gregory Hannon and colleagues from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory wrote in the first paper.

One subgroup of Argonaute proteins acts in RNAi and microRNA-mediated gene regulation, while another, the Piwi subfamily, is involved in germline-specific events such as meiosis, the researchers explain.

"However, neither the biochemical function of Piwi proteins nor the nature of their small RNA guides is known," the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory team state. In the Nature paper, "we show that MIWI, a murine Piwi protein, binds a previously uncharacterized class of [approximately] 29-30 nucleotide RNAs that are highly abundant in testes."

While the role of these so-called piRNAs is unknown, "the abundance of [them] in germline cells and the male sterility of MIWI mutants suggest a role in gametogenesis," they added.

In the second paper, Rockefeller University researcher Tom Tuschl and colleagues reported the discovery that piRNAs bind to another Piwi member, MILI, in male mouse germ cells, accumulating at the onset of meiosis.

"The small RNAs are 26-31 nucleotides in length — clearly distinct from the 21-23 [nucleotides] of microRNAs or short interfering RNAs," Tuschl's team wrote in Nature. "The identification of this new class of small RNAs provides an important starting point to determine the molecular function of Piwi proteins in mammalian spermatogenesis."


As Expected, USPTO Awards Alnylam Tuschl-2 Patent

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals said this week that the US Patent and Trademark Office has awarded the company a patent from its Tuschl-2 family of patent applications.

The company announced that the USPTO had issued the company a notice of allowance for the patent in January (see RNAi News, 1/19/2006).

The newly issued patent — No. 7,056,704 — claims the use of siRNAs, between 19 and 25 nucleotides long, to mediate RNAi, as well as the use of overhangs on the 3' ends of dsRNAs to mediate target RNA cleavage. It is held exclusively by Alnylam.


SR Pharma Unveils Simplified siRNA Drug Storage Process

SR Pharma said this week that it has developed a process that allows its freeze-dried, liposomally formulated siRNA-based drugs to be stored at room temperature and reconstituted with water immediately prior to administration.

The process does not require any additional steps, such as sonication, and will be applied to the manufacture of company's investigational RNAi drugs, SR Pharma noted.


GSK, Galapagos Ink Osteoarthritis Drug-Development Deal

GlaxoSmithKline and Galapagos this week announced the formation of a worldwide, multi-year drug-discovery and -development alliance in osteoarthritis.

The deal calls for Galapagos to identify genes of interest for GlaxoSmithKline, which will have exclusive options to further develop and commercialize compounds on a worldwide basis. Galapagos will have the right to further develop and commercialize compounds for which GlaxoSmithKline does not exercise its option, the companies said.

Galapagos will receive an upfront technology access fee of €4 million ($5.1 million) from GlaxoSmithKline. Galapagos also stands to receive up to €65 million in success-based milestones.

Galapagos will also receive up to double-digit royalties on sales of products commercialized through the alliance. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline retains the option to make an equity investment of up to €3 million in Galapagos.