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Benitec, Sirna, Sigma-Aldrich, Proligo, Invitrogen, Lorus, Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals, Koken


Benitec to Raise $9 Million
Through Rights Issue

Benitec filed this week a prospectus with the Australian Stock Exchange for a fully underwritten rights issue allowing the company's shareholders to purchase two common shares for every three shares held at a price of Au$0.16 per share.

The company expects to net about Au$9 million, roughly $6.9 million, through the issue.

According to Benitec, shareholders who subscribe will be entitled to an option for every two shares subscribed for, exercisable at $0.32 at any time before April 2008.

The rights issue has been fully underwritten by Bell Potter Securities, and sub-underwritten by the directors of the company and clients of Bell Potter. A company associated with Benitec Chairman Raymond Whitten has sub-underwritten the issue to the sum of $1 million, and company Director Robert Thomas has sub-underwritten the issue to the sum of $500,000, Benitec said.

"This capital raised under this issue will endure the company is able to continue the current momentum of developing its clinical programs and expand its operations in California," Whitten said in a statement. The company also plans to use the proceeds of the issue to repay liabilities.

The issue is expected to close on May 2.

News of the rights issue comes as Benitec faces a cash crunch — as of Dec. 31, 2004, the company had about Au$3 million on hand. Last month, CEO Sara Cunningham told RNAi News that the company expects its monthly burn rate to reach nearly Au$1.3 million (see RNAi News, 3/4/2005).

Sirna Collaborators Use RNAi to Improve
Huntington's Disease Symptoms in Mice

Researchers from the University of Iowa published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences data demonstrating that a protein associated with Huntington's disease could be reduced in mice, leading to an improvement in movement and neurological impairment associated with the disorder.

The work was conducted by Beverly Davidson and colleagues at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. Davidson and the university have been working in collaboration with Sirna Therapeutics on developing therapeutic siRNAs for Huntington's disease (see RNAi News, 6/11/2004).

Huntington's disease is caused by the expansion of a CAG repeat in exon 1 of the gene huntingtin. According to the PNAS paper, Davidson and her colleagues were able to use shRNAs to reduce huntingtin mRNA and protein expression in the brain of a Huntington's disease mouse model by about 40 percent.

Further, huntingtin gene silencing "improved behavioral and neuropathological abnormalities associated with" the disease, the researchers found.

"It is very exciting that a partial reduction is sufficient to produce a very beneficial effect in the animal," Davidson said in a statement. "For a disease that takes decades to develop, a partial reduction may slow down the disease-causing copy if the gene to such an extent that either disease progression is delayed or possibly even disease onset is prevented."

Sigma-Aldrich Completes Proligo Acquisition

Sigma-Aldrich announced last week that it has completed its acquisition of DNA and RNA maker Proligo from Degussa.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. According to Sigma-Aldrich, Proligo had 2004 sales of about $40 million.

Sigma-Aldrich first announced its intent to acquire Proligo in February as part of an effort to extend its reach into the RNAi field (see RNAi News, 2/18/2005).

Invitrogen Closes Acquisition of Dynal

Invitrogen said last week that it has closed its acquisition of privately held Dynal Biotech in a deal valued at approximately $391 million.

The deal gives Invitrogen Dynal's Dynabeads magnetic separation-technology business and its HLA diagnostics segment. The acquisition, announced in February, moves Invitrogen for the first time into an FDA-regulated market through Dynal's in vitro diagnostics customers like Roche Diagnostics and Bayer.

Invitrogen bought Dynal, which has operations in China, from majority owner Nordic Capital of Sweden. The firm supplies magnetic particles to diagnostics manufacturers for use in high-throughput automated immunoassays as well as other diagnostic instrument systems. Nordic and Ratos purchased Dynal for $190 million in 2001.

Lorus Inks Antisense Cancer Drug
Deal with Japanese Drug Makers

Lorus Therapeutics said this week that it has signed a antisense oligo collaboration agreement with Japanese drug makers Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals and Koken.

Under the terms of the deal, Lorus will provide the drug companies with proprietary antisense oligonucleotides complementary to thioredoxin mRNA and a lead drug candidate called GTI-2601. According to Lorus, thioredoxin is involved in tumor formation, progression, and metastasis, while its over-expression is associated with resistance to chemotherapeutics.

Lorus said that it will hold a 50-percent stake in any compounds resulting from the collaboration. Additional terms were not disclosed.

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