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Strands: Jan 22, 2009

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Alnylam Says European Patent Invalidated, Plans Appeal

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals this week announced that the European Patent Office has overturned the claims of one of its patents covering compositions, methods, and uses of siRNAs with a length between 15 and 49 nucleotides.

The patent in question, EP 1214945, is part of Alnylam's so-called Kreutzer-Limmer patent estate, which the company acquired when it bought German RNAi shop Ribopharma in 2003.

According to Alnylam, the ruling is not final and can be appealed. Additionally, the ruling does not affect other patents within the Kreutzer-Limmer intellectual property estate.

"We strongly believe in the inventive matter described in the '945 patent and we intend to take the next step and appeal the decision made today through the EPO's appeal process," Alnylam President and COO Barry Greene said in a statement.

In 2006, the EPO upheld the validity of another patent in the Kreutzer-Limmer family, but only after Alnylam amended its claims (see RNAi News, 7/13/2006).


Stimulus Bill Holds Billions for NIH, CDC

The Federal economic stimulus package that awaits both Congress and newly-inaugurated President Barack Obama includes billions of dollars in new funding for the National Institutes of Health and other research agencies, as well as a major funding plan for a health information technology program.

The stimulus package, which currently is in the US House of Representatives, offers $3.5 billion to NIH, $460 million for renovation at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of $20 billion to back health information technology initiatives, and billions for other agencies that fund biomedical research and genomics, according to the House Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, which was drafted to "prevent the loss of millions of jobs and get our economy moving," will be considered over the next two weeks, according to a statement from the office of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.).

In its current draft, the package seeks $1.5 billion to fund NIH research and $500 million to implement a repairs and improvement plan for NIH campuses. Another $1.5 billion in the bill would go through NIH to renovate university research facilities and "help them compete for biomedical research grants."

The Agricultural Research Service at the US Department of Agriculture would receive $209 million for research facility maintenance, and $900 million would fund advanced biomedical R&D, pandemic flu, and cyber security protections at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Investment in science through the stimulus bill will immediately create new jobs and prevent job losses for researchers, technicians, and thousands of others who provide equipment, supplies, and services to laboratories in all 50 states," explained Richard Marchase, who is president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

The bill was crafted with "strong coordination" between the House and the US Senate, as well as Obama and his economic advisors, according to a statement supporting the bill from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D – NY).

Representative Wally Herger (R – Calif.), who is a ranking member of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, expressed concern on Friday about some of the health funding in the bill, but he did not single out NIH or research spending as problematic.

Herger fretted that the health-focused aspects of the package amounted to a "borrow and spend" approach and simply "throwing money at the problem," but the majority of his criticism was reserved for health care system subsidies.

Herger said that developing our IT health infrastructure "is an admirable goal and should be part of our long term health strategy," but he noted that he is "concerned about whether the legislation will include sufficient standards so that the equipment and software will be interoperable."

Rangel said on Saturday that the Ways and Means Committee will begin discussing the bill after it is formally introduced this week.

The Scan

Single-Cell Sequencing Points to Embryo Mosaicism

Mosaicism may affect preimplantation genetic tests for aneuploidy, a single-cell sequencing-based analysis of almost three dozen embryos in PLOS Genetics finds.

Rett Syndrome Mouse Model Study Points to RNA Editing Possibilities

Investigators targeted MECP2 in mutant mouse models of Rett syndrome, showing in PNAS that they could restore its expression and dial down symptoms.

Investigators Find Shared, Distinct Genetic Contributors to Childhood Hodgkin Lymphoma

An association study in JAMA Network Open uncovers risk variants within and beyond the human leukocyte antigen locus.

Transcriptomic, Epigenetic Study Appears to Explain Anti-Viral Effects of TB Vaccine

Researchers report in Science Advances on an interferon signature and long-term shifts in monocyte cell DNA methylation in Bacille Calmette-Guérin-vaccinated infant samples.