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CytRx, Alnylam, University of Texas, Protiva, Agilent, Cogenics, Agendia, Asuragen

CytRx to Invest $15M from Offering in RNAi Subsidiary
CytRx said this week that it has entered into agreements to sell about $37 million of its common stock through private placements with institutional investors, allowing the company to make a substantial investment in its RNAi drug subsidiary RXi Pharmaceuticals.
Under the terms of the deal, CytRx will sell 8.6 million shares for $4.30 per share. The company said it expects to net about $34.4 million through the offering.
Approximately $15 million of the proceeds will be invested into RXi. This investment, CytRx said, will satisfy RXi's financing requirements under its agreements with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
It will also trigger CytRx's pre-existing contractual obligations to reduce its ownership of RXi to less than a majority. CytRx said it expects to do so by a dividend or other distribution of RXi shares to CytRx stockholders.

Alnylam Moves Liver Cancer Drug into Pipeline, Inex to Handle Manufacturing
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals this week said that it has added to its formal pipeline a systemically delivered siRNA-based drug for liver cancer and other solid tumors.
The drug, called ALN-VSP01, comprises two siRNAs, one targeting vascular endothelial growth factor, which is associated with angiogenesis, and the other targeting kinesin spindle protein, which has been linked to cell proliferation in various cancers.
Alnylam said that it presented preclinical data at this week’s American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting showing that a single injection of an anti-VEGF siRNA in a rodent model cut in vivo VEGF protein by more than 50 percent.
Other data showed that a single injection of KSP-specific siRNA in a rodent model could reduce KSP mRNA in vivo by greater than 50 percent, and that human cancer cell proliferation could be stopped in vitro using siRNAs against KSP.
Separately, Inex Pharmaceuticals this week announced that its liposomal delivery technology would be used in ALN-VSP01. The technology is currently the subject of a legal battle with former Inex subsidiary Protiva Biotherapeutics and involving Merck subsidiary Sirna Therapeutics (see RNAi News, 3/22/2007).
Pursuant to the terms of a recently expanded licensing deal with Alnylam for the technology (see RNAi News, 1/11/2007), Inex said it will also manufacture the drug candidate in preparation for toxicology studies.
Inex noted that it stands to receive milestones tied to the development of ALN-VSP01, as well as royalties on product sales.
Alnylam said it expects to file an investigational new drug application on ALN-VSP01 next year.

Researchers Use RNAi Library to Screen for Genes Linked to Chemo Sensitivity
Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center last week published the results of RNAi screening experiments in which they identified genes that appear to sensitize human cancer cells to chemotherapy.
Using Thermo Fisher Scientific subsidiary Dharmacon’s siArray whole human genome collection of pooled siRNAs, the researchers conducted a paclitaxel-dependent synthetic lethal screen in a human non-small-cell lung cancer line in order to “identify gene targets that specifically reduce cell viability in the presence of otherwise sublethal concentrations of paclitaxel,” the wrote in their paper, which appeared in Nature.
“Using a stringent objective statistical algorithm to reduce false discovery rates below 5 percent, we isolated a panel of 87 genes that represent major focal points of the autonomous response of cancer cells to the abrogation of microtubule dynamics,” they stated. “Several of these targets sensitize lung cancer cells to paclitaxel concentrations 1,000-fold lower than otherwise required for a significant response.”
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is a member of Dharmacon’s RNAi Global Initiative, an alliance of international non-profit biomedical research centers that will use the company's siArray human genome siRNA library to conduct genome-wide RNAi screens (see RNAi News, 10/7/2005).

Protiva Says Sirna Injunction In Effect
Protiva Biotherapeutics said this week that a California Superior Court preliminary injunction barring Sirna Therapeutics from using a delivery technology at the heart of a legal battle between the companies went into effect last week.
As reported by RNAi News last month, the court ordered Sirna “not to engage in product development in connection with the delivery of siRNA beyond the target areas set forth” in its scuttled strategic alliance with Protiva (see RNAi News, 3/22/2007). Targets covered under that agreement include hepatitis B and C, as well as PTP 1B, a gene associated with insulin resistance and diabetes.
The dispute between Sirna and Protiva began in 2005 when the companies formed a strategic alliance to apply Protiva’s SNALP, or stable nucleic acid lipid particle, delivery technology to Sirna-designed siRNAs (see RNAi News, 4/8/2005). 
It fell apart, however, when Sirna sued Protiva in a US District Court for breach of contract and fraud, alleging that Protiva didn’t own the rights to the delivery technology for RNAi applications (see RNAi News, 3/2/2006).
Protiva said this week the matter is scheduled for a jury trial in November.

Agilent Certifies Cogenics as miRNA Array Service Provider
Agilent said this week it has certified Cogenics as a service provider for its microRNA microarrays.
The certification makes Cogenics the first company to offer miRNA expression profiling on Agilent’s platform, Agilent said.
The certification includes training and assessment in analyzing 60-mer oligo microarrays, quality control on the Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer, and labeling, hybridization, and bioinformatics data analysis on other platforms, Agilent said.

Agendia Licenses Asuragen's Sample-Preservation Product for Use with MammaPrint
Asuragen said this week it has granted global rights to Agendia for use of its RNARetain tissue preservation solution for human diagnostic applications.
Under the non-exclusive agreement, Agendia will use RNARetain to store and ship tumor samples for its MammaPrint diagnostic, which predicts the risk of the recurrence of breast cancer.
RNARetain, also known as RNAlater, is used to preserve nucleic acid profiles in solid tissues.

The Scan

Study Finds Sorghum Genetic Loci Influencing Composition, Function of Human Gut Microbes

Focusing on microbes found in the human gut microbiome, researchers in Nature Communications identified 10 sorghum loci that appear to influence the microbial taxa or microbial metabolite features.

Treatment Costs May Not Coincide With R&D Investment, Study Suggests

Researchers in JAMA Network Open did not find an association between ultimate treatment costs and investments in a drug when they analyzed available data on 60 approved drugs.

Sleep-Related Variants Show Low Penetrance in Large Population Analysis

A limited number of variants had documented sleep effects in an investigation in PLOS Genetics of 10 genes with reported sleep ties in nearly 192,000 participants in four population studies.

Researchers Develop Polygenic Risk Scores for Dozens of Disease-Related Exposures

With genetic data from two large population cohorts and summary statistics from prior genome-wide association studies, researchers came up with 27 exposure polygenic risk scores in the American Journal of Human Genetics.