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Mass Ethics Commission Upholds CytRx,
UMass Conflict-of-Interest Resolution

The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission has upheld a previous resolution between CytRx and a former University of Massachusetts Medical School employee that inquired into the company's use of the employee to facilitate a licensing deal between the company and the institution.

Last May, CytRx revealed in a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission was investigating a possible conflict of interest in a deal the company struck for the exclusive rights to UMMS' RNAi intellectual property in the areas of obesity, type II diabetes, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (see RNAi News, 5/21/2004).

Mark Shelton, associate vice chancellor of university relations at UMass, told RNAi News at the time that the conflict of interest issue stemmed from the fact that the "freelance technology consultant" CytRx hired to help it identify technology-licensing opportunities had previously been employed by UMass to help find licensees for intellectual property developed at the university. This consultant "was, indeed, the person who connected the medical school with CytRx" in the summer of 2003, he said.

According to the state ethics committee, UMMS reached an agreement with CytRx that would have the consultant, Rip Grossman, forfeit the $53,000 and 100,000 shares of CytRx stock he was owed from the company. Additionally, Grossman's relationship with UMMS would be terminated, and his relationship with the company would be restricted to ensure he would not receive his forfeited commission in the future.

Further, the Massachusetts State Ethics Committee fined Grossman $10,000 for violating the state's conflict of interest law.

Shelton told RNAi News in an e-mail this week that UMass Medical School is pleased with the actions of the State Ethics Commission, actions that affirm that UMass Medical School acted promptly and appropriately when the conflict of interest came to our attention.

Officials from CytRx could not be reached by press time.


Intradigm Inks Licensing, Collaboration Deal with Acuity

Intradigm said this week that it has exclusively licensed its ophthalmic drug discovery and delivery platforms to Acuity Pharmaceuticals.

The announcement comes about three weeks after Intradigm Chairman and CEO John Spears told RNAi News that his company was dropping plans to work on diseases associated with ocular angiogenesis on its own, and was considering working with a collaborator (see RNAi News, 5/27/2005).

The deal, Intradigm said, also calls for the companies to collaborate on the development of topical and other formulations of Acuity's RNAi-based age-related macular degeneration therapy, Cand5. Acuity has acquired rights to Intradigm's intellectual property associated with the ophthalmic programs.

The agreement between the companies calls for upfront payments, milestones, and royalties. Intradigm personnel will also work with Acuity researchers on a collaborative basis to develop a topical formulation of Cand5, Intradigm said. Additional details were not disclosed.

The arrangement "allows us to sharpen our focus on our core cancer indications, specifically, development of our lead siRNA cancer therapeutic ICS-283, while enabling Acuity to leverage our promising discovery and delivery technologies for ophthalmic applications," John Spears, CEO of Intradigm, said in a statement.


Alnylam Licenses RNAi Patents to Ambion

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals said this week that it has granted Ambion a non-exclusive license to provide RNAi-based research products and services under the Kreutzer-Limmer patent estate.

The Kreutzer-Limmer patents, which cover siRNAs and their use in mammalian cells, were acquired by Alnylam when it merged with German RNAi shop Ribopharma in July 2003.

Specific terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.


Open Biosystems Announces Completion of shRNA Library

Open Biosystems announced this week the "imminent" completion its ExpressionArrest whole genome human short hairpin library.

The company's plan to finish the library in June was first reported in RNAi News last month (see RNAi News, 5/13/2005).

According to Open Biosystems, the shRNA library was developed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Greg Hannon and Harvard University's Steve Elledge. It targets over 30,000 genes with multiple shRNA constructs per gene and all protein classes, including those considered druggable.

The library will begin shipping on June 10.


NIH Seeks Licensees for RNAi-Related Cancer Therapy

The National Institutes of Health said this week that it is on the lookout for licensees for a technology that uses RNAi to treat cancers and preneoplastic lesions.

According to the NIH's Office of Technology Transfer, the technology involves the use of siRNAs to "alter the expression of one or more particular CTNNB1 transcripts. In particular, preferred siRNA molecules alter the expression of the CTNNB1 transcripts 16A and/or 16B," the office said. "The siRNA molecules may be single-stranded or double-stranded … [and] may be delivered using a construct, which is capable of expressing the siRNA molecule upon delivery to the target cell."

The technology is covered by US provisional patent application No. 60/667,084, the NIH said.


Sirna Reports Publication of Hepatitis B In Vivo RNAi Data

Sirna Therapeutics reported this week that an article has been published in the journal Hepatology describing the use of the company's chemically modified siRNAs in a mouse model of hepatitis B replication.

According to Sirna, the paper "demonstrated in vivo validation of chemical modifications of siRNAs and the distinct differences between modified and unmodified molecules necessary for therapeutic relevance."

To test the siRNAs, "an HBV vector-based model was employed in which the siRNA and the HBV vector were co-delivered via high volume tail vein injection," Sirna said. "More than a 3 log10 decrease in levels of serum HBV DNA and HBsAg, as well as liver HBV RNA, were observed in the siRNA treated groups compared to the control siRNA treated and saline groups. Furthermore, the observed decrease in serum HBV DNA was 1.5 log10 greater with a modified siRNA compared to an unmodified siRNA indicating the value of chemical modification in therapeutic applications of siRNA," the company noted.

"Progressing beyond high volume tail vein injection in subsequent experiments, standard systemic intravenous dosing of modified siRNA, resulted in an approximately 1 log10 reduction of serum HBV DNA levels while no activity was observed with unmodified siRNA," Sirna said.


ABI, Invitrogen Ink Deal on Labeling Reagents for Proteomics

Applied Biosystems and Invitrogen will co-market and re-sell their respective protein-labeling technologies for quantitative proteomics and biomarker studies, the companies said this week.

Under the agreement, the companies will jointly sell ABI's iTRAQ and ICAT protein and peptide labeling reagents, and Invitrogen's new SILAC metabolomic labeling technology. ABI will also support Invitrogen's SILAC technology with software on its TOF/TOF mass spectrometers and plans to extend software support to other mass spec types.

In addition, the companies said they will co-develop and co-market protein sample preparation kits for mass spectrometry, as well as other reagents such as matrices, solubilizers, and calibrants.

Neither company disclosed financial terms of the agreement.

The Scan

Shape of Them All

According to BBC News, researchers have developed a protein structure database that includes much of the human proteome.

For Flu and More

The Wall Street Journal reports that several vaccine developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines for influenza.

To Boost Women

China's Ministry of Science and Technology aims to boost the number of female researchers through a new policy, reports the South China Morning Post.

Science Papers Describe Approach to Predict Chemotherapeutic Response, Role of Transcriptional Noise

In Science this week: neural network to predict chemotherapeutic response in cancer patients, and more.