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Rosetta, Generex, NCI, Harvard University

Rosetta Posts Higher Q4 Loss on Increased Expenses
Newly public microRNA firm Rosetta Genomics (see RNAi News, 3/1/2007) this week reported its fourth-quarter financial results, posting higher losses on increased expenses.
For the three-month period, Rosetta’s net loss was $2.1 million, or $0.82 per share, versus a year-ago loss of $1.8 million, or $0.72 per share. Revenues in the period were $122,000.
Research and development spending in the quarter climbed to $1.3 million from $1 million in the same period a year earlier, while marketing and business development costs jumped to $388,000 in the fourth quarter from $263,000 in the same quarter of 2005.
Meantime, general and administrative expenses surged to $507,000 in the fourth quarter from $214,000.
As of Dec. 31, the company had $5.2 million in cash and cash equivalents.

Generex Inks Deal to Begin RNAi Cancer Drug Trials in China
Throwing its hat into the RNAi drugs arena, Generex Biotechnology said this week it has signed a deal with Beijing Daopei Hospital in China to conduct clinical trials of the company’s RNAi-based cancer therapy in patients with acute myelogenous leukemia.
According to the company, the therapy involves “modifying the patient's cancer cells to increase their immunogenicity and thereby enable the immune system to fight off the cancer anywhere in the patient's body.
“Cancer cells expressing MHC class II molecules but not the MHC class II-associated invariant chain, [or Ii protein], can be used as robust vaccines in pre-clinical models,” the company noted. “The Ii protein serves to block MHC class II molecules from associating with aberrant tumor-associated peptides in the cancer cell which it could otherwise present on the surface of the cell to activate T helper immune cells.”
Generex’s therapy involves using an RNAi-expressing vector to silence the Ii protein in cancer cells already expressing MHC class II molecules that are amenable to clinical use, the company said.

As NCI Grants Decline 30 Percent, Harvard Researcher Warns Congress of 'Devastating' Consequences
A Harvard University cell biologist and cancer researcher told lawmakers last week that tightening budgets at the National Institutes of Health, if continued, could have “devastating” effects on new biomedical research fields, including genomics.
According to Joan Brugge, scaled back funding has already caused grants at the National Cancer Institute to decline between 24 to 29 percent, and has lowered success rates for initial investigators to 5 percent, GenomeWeb News, an RNAi News sister publication, reported last week.
Brugge, testifying Monday before the US Senate Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services Committee, said that declining federal funds for biomedical research makes it harder for researchers in cutting-edge fields to get funding, eats into a quarter of existing grants, and lowers the chance that young scientists will get the support they need to fuel their research and careers.
Brugge, who is head of the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, expressed “profound concerns” about how this situation has damaged cancer research in particular — her field of interest.
The NCI runs an Office of Cancer Genomics, which oversees programs such as the Cancer Genome Atlas, the NIH Mammalian Gene Collection, the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project, and the Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility program.
She spoke at a hearing in which representatives of major US told lawmakers of the importance of new research, and of the pain being felt due to weak funding.
“Four years of flat funding [at the NIH] have had a devastating impact on the trajectory of cancer research,” Brugge told the committee.
Brugge was referring to the fiscal years between 2003 and 2007, when NIH funding dropped 8.3 percent after adjustments for biomedical inflation.
Success rates of grants can be misleading, Brugge said, because those reflect the first, second, and third submissions of a grant. According to Brugge, the eventual success rate for obtaining NIH grants is currently about 20 percent, but that rate gets cut in half for the first submissions.
Not only are fewer grants being accepted, but the size of “nearly every” grant has shrunk by an average of 24 percent to 29 percent at NCI, Brugge said. 
Initial investigators have only a 5-percent success rate, Brugge said, signifying a trend that she believes will deter young scientists from pushing their research, which could stymie their careers.
Brugge told GenomeWeb News after her testimony that she is “concerned about young people being discouraged to even enter science.”

Her remarks come just a month after the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology criticized the fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the NIH, claiming it “deal[s] harshly with our country’s premier medical research agency.”

One month earlier, the National Science Foundation found that inflation-adjusted federal funding going to the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Department of Energy’s Human Genome Project

will likely to decline 1.5 percent in fiscal 2007 over fiscal 2006.
“A major theme” of the hearing “was that under these conditions what is affected most is funding for the most creative, risky grants,” Brugge said.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.