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Benitec, Alnylam, Cenix, Atugen, Applied Biosystems, Ambion, AcroMetrix, Genta, Aventis

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Benitec IDs Hep C Drug Candidate,
On Track to Begin Phase I Next Year

Benitec said this week that it has identified a clinical candidate for its RNAi-based therapeutic program in hepatitis C, and that the company is on track to initiate phase I testing of the drug in the second half of 2006.

The drug, said Benitec, will consist of three RNAi sequences targeting the hepatitis C RNA genome that will be delivered intravenously to patients infected with the virus. Each component of the drug has individually shown potent inhibition of hepatitis C virus derivatives in both tissue culture and rodent models, the company noted.

Benitec also said it has commenced preclinical efficacy and safety studies of its hepatitis C drug in marmosets in collaboration with scientific advisory board member and Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research scientist Robert Lanford. Data from this work will support an investigation new drug application filing with US regulators, the company said.


Alnylam Receives European Patent on siRNAs

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals said this week that it has received a European patent covering short interfering RNAs.

According to the company, the patent — number 1214945 — covers therapeutic compositions, methods, and uses of siRNAs and derivatives with a length between 15 and 49 nucleotides. Alnylam said that the new patent builds upon the so-called Kreutzer-Limmer patent — number 1144623 — that covers siRNAs having a sequence complementary to a target gene of up to 25 nucleotides in length.

The Kreutzer-Limmer patent is currently being opposed by a number of companies including Sirna Therapeutics, Atugen, Aventis Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceutica, AstraZeneca, and Novartis (see RNAi News, 1/16/2004). Isis Pharmaceuticals had been opposing the patent as well, but withdrew its opposition after inking an intellectual property deal with Alnylam (see RNAi News, 3/19/2004).


Cenix, Definiens Ink High-Content Screening Deal

Cenix BioScience and Definiens said this week that they have signed a licensing and co-marketing agreement in the area of high-content screening.

Under the deal, Cenix will gain access to Definiens' Cellenger image analysis software system, integrating it into its high-throughput, high-content RNAi-based screening infrastructure. In exchange, Definiens will receive product development and marketing assistance from Cenix through beta-testing feedback, data sharing, and reference site support, the companies said.

Additional terms of the non-exclusive agreement were not disclosed.


Atugen Announces Nine Milestones in Schering Deal

Atugen said this week that it has achieved nine of the milestones spelled out in its target validation research deal with German drug maker Schering and its US subsidiary, Berlex Bioscience.

Atugen said it received payments for nine cancer drug targets that have been further investigated by Schering after they were validated with Atugen's proprietary gene-silencing technology.

The companies entered the arrangement in 2002. An Atugen spokeswoman said that the deal has since ended. Financial terms were not disclosed.


Applied Biosystems Reports Use of Assays in microRNA
Detection, Plans Early-Access Launch This Year

Applied Biosystems said this week that data from experiments with a preliminary version of its TaqMan microRNA assays demonstrate that microRNAs may be involved in the development of certain cancers.

According to the company, researchers from Dartmouth Medical School used the assays to compare miRNA expression profiles in normal brain tissue and glioblastoma brain tumor tissue, and found that the tumors have a different expression signature. The company said that the data indicate that miRNAs could also be used as markers for improving prognosis of glioblastoma multiforme.

"Other available technologies based on hybridization methods are not able to accurately detect microRNAs from small amounts of starting material," Victor Ambros, professor of genetics at Dartmouth Medical School, said in a statement. "We found the use of TaqMan microRNA assays to be the easiest and most accurate way to detect and quantify microRNAs."

Applied Biosystems said it currently has a large set of the miRNA assays in development and plans to commercialize its miRNA assay technology based on TaqMan 5' nuclease chemistry for real-time PCR.

"We're hoping to commercialize an early-access version of the human assay product in 2005," Chriss Walworth, director of assays and miRNA products at Applied Biosystems, told RNAi News. "We're looking at … about 180 different assays that would be pre-plated for customers. It's a fairly complete set for the human species."


Ambion Inks Armored Technology Deal with AcroMetrix

Ambion has granted AcroMetrix the right to manufacture products incorporating its Armored nucleic acid packaging technology and distribute then to in vitro diagnostic laboratories and manufacturers, the company said last week.

According to Ambion, the technology involves putting nucleic acids in bacteriophage coat proteins to protect and stabilize RNA and DNA.

Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed.


Genta, Aventis Partnership for Genasense Ends

Genta said this week that its deal with Aventis, now Sanofi-Aventis, to develop the antisense-based cancer drug Genasense has officially ended.

In November Gentia announced that Aventis was pulling out of the arrangement, signed in 2002 and worth up to $480 million, after the drug failed to get the backing of a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel.

With the termination of the deal, the companies have no further financial obligation to each other, and a line of credit Aventis established for Genta has been retired. Aventis will return its current inventory of Genasense to Genta, which will assume all further development responsibilities for the drug.

The Scan

Interfering With Invasive Mussels

The Chicago Tribune reports that researchers are studying whether RNA interference- or CRISPR-based approaches can combat invasive freshwater mussels.

Participation Analysis

A new study finds that women tend to participate less at scientific meetings but that some changes can lead to increased involvement, the Guardian reports.

Right Whales' Decline

A research study plans to use genetic analysis to gain insight into population decline among North American right whales, according to CBC.

Science Papers Tie Rare Mutations to Short Stature, Immunodeficiency; Present Single-Cell Transcriptomics Map

In Science this week: pair of mutations in one gene uncovered in brothers with short stature and immunodeficiency, and more.