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Exiqon, Silence Therapeutics, MDRNA, RiboTask, Benitec, Asuragen, NuGen

Exiqon’s First miRNA Dx to Screen for Colorectal Cancer Recurrence
Exiqon last week announced that its first microRNA-based diagnostic will be a test for determining colorectal cancer recurrence, BioArray News, an RNAi News sister publication, reported this week.
As previously reported by RNAi News, the company expects to introduce the test to the US market before the end of the year (see RNAi News, 4/10/2008).
The announcement of the indication for Exiqon’s first diagnostic comes as the company said it has changed the name of its recently acquired clinical laboratory diagnostics subsidiary from Oncotech to Exiqon Diagnostics.

Silence to Begin Clinical Study of Cancer Drug in 2009
Silence Therapeutics last week said that it expects to start a phase I trial of its lead RNAi-based cancer drug candidate, Atu-027, next year in Germany.
“The company has sent a briefing to the German regulatory authorities and has commenced discussions in preparation for submission of a full application package,” the company said.
Previously, Silence had said it expected to begin testing the compound in humans in 2008 (see RNAi News, 1/17/2008).
Atu-027 is a preclinical, systemically administered drug comprising modified, blunt-ended siRNA that target PKN-3, a protein kinase that company researchers have linked to tumor growth and metastases, and formulated with a mixture of cationic and fusogenic lipids.
Silence had originally planned to evaluate Atu-027 as a treatment for gastrointestinal and pancreatic cancers, but later saw potential for the drug as a therapy for lung cancer. Early this year, Silence’s former CEO Jeffery Vick said the company was considering including lung cancer patients in the phase I study.
Company officials were not available for comment by press time.

MDRNA Licenses siRNA Technology from RiboTask
MDRNA said this week that it has acquired from RiboTask intellectual property related to non-nucleotide chemistry expected to be useful in stabilizing both RISC- and Dicer-length siRNAs.
Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The so-called unlocked nucleic acid technology is comprised of an acyclic ribonucleoside analog in which the bond between C2' and C3' atoms is broken, according to MDRNA. “This change in sugar structure renders this nucleoside analog very flexible … [which] reduces the binding affinity between two strands of siRNA molecule and gives unique characteristics to its gene-silencing abilities.”
"MDRNA and RiboTask's data indicating that UNA improves the drug-like properties of siRNAs by reducing sense- and antisense-mediated off-target effects while retaining the potency of siRNA molecules makes it clear that this approach holds great promise for the development and commercialization of RNAi-based therapeutics,” Jesper Wengel, co-founder and chairman of RiboTask, said in a statement.
"While RiboTask is looking forward to commercializing the diagnostic and reagents applications of UNA, we are glad that this technology is in the hands of MDRNA [which can] bring UNA-siRNAi therapeutics to patients."

Benitec Issued New Zealand Patent on Core Technology, Raises Cash
Benitec announced last week that it has received a New Zealand patent covering its core expressed RNAi technology.
The patent, entitled “Control of Gene Expression,” is part of the same patent family as the company’s US patent, No. 6,573,099. Earlier this year, the US Patent and Trademark Office rejected for the fourth time all claims within that intellectual property (see RNAi News, 4/24/2008).
This ruling, however, was not final. Earlier this month, Benitec said it had responded to the USPTO’s rejection of the patent and that a follow-up meeting with the patent office is planned to occur within the next few months.
Separately, Benitec announced this week that it has raised AUS$1.97 million ($1.32 million) through the private placement of approximately 43.8 million shares and one-for-one free attaching options.
The shares and options will be issued to existing shareholder Christopher Bremner.
According to Benitec, shareholders must approve the share issuance, other than an initial
9 million shares and free attaching options, which will raise AUS$406,000 and are able to be issued immediately without shareholder approval.

Asuragen to Use NuGen's RNA Ovation Systems in Expression Analysis Service
NuGen Technologies said this week that Asuragen’s Pharmacogenomic Services Division will use NuGen’s RNA amplification and labeling products in its gene expression profiling services.
The company said Asuragen will use NuGen’s products for its services, which are performed on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue and whole blood samples on the Affymetrix GeneChip platform.
Asuragen will use the WT-Ovation FFPE Solution for global gene expression analysis of degraded RNA archives from FFPE samples using the Affy GeneChip Exon and Gene ST arrays, and the Ovation Whole Blood Solution for target preparation for gene expression analysis of samples as small as 20 ng of whole blood RNA.
Asuragen will include the NuGen products in its Encompass Services for FFPE portfolio, offered with analysis on Affy microarrays to give researchers access to information from archived samples.

Financial terms of the agreement were not released.