BioASP Newsletter
Volume 1
January 22, 2004



Research news

Kiadis announces acquisition of Selact

Kiadis BV, the Dutch drug discovery and development company, has acquired the entire issued share capital and assets of Selact BV. The acquisition creates a leading integrated chemistry research company that can rapidly find bioactive molecules in complex mixtures as well as carry out advanced chemical synthesis and lead optimization in house. Selact, which has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Kiadis, is a chemistry company that specializes in contract research. Selact is specialised in custom synthesis, in particular in the area of difficult to synthesize molecules, chiral synthesis, chiral catalysis and analytical support. The acquisition will enable Kiadis to exploit synergies between the two businesses. Furthermore the enlarged group will benefit from the close relationship that Selact enjoys with the University of Groningen and its co-founder Professor Dr. Ben Feringa, a leader in this field of research.

(Source: Kiadis, 18-12-2003)

Feasibility study on microarray-test

In September the NKI/AvL, the 'College voor Zorgverzekeringen' (CVZ) and the microarray-laboratory Agendia started preparations for a feasibility study aimed at the effectiveness of the microarray-test. With this test it can be predicted whether breast cancer patients will or will not have metastasis. With this test the microarray technology will be applied clinically in the treatment of breast cancer for the first time. Before introducing the test in Dutch hospitals, it has to be examinated whether application of this expensive test could be realised in daily practice. The first stage of the study will last until March 2004 and is carried out by NMI/AvL in collaboration with several hospitals. When this stage is successful, the next stage will be used to enable every Dutch hospital to use this kind of diagnosis. In the co-operating hospitals tumor tissue will be collected and sent to the new NKI/AvL microarray laboratory 'Agendia', of researchers René Bernards and Laura van 't Veer, which opened its doors on October 1st, 2003. When the test results will show that metastasis risk is low, the patient and its doctor may decide to cancel chemotherapy which is currently applied to every breast cancer patient for safety reasons. When the feasibility study will show that the implementation is successful, this method might be included in the public health insurance. The total amount of patients in the Netherlands that would be considered for the microarray-test amounts to approximately 4,800 per year.

(Source: Antoni's Berichten, 01-12-2003)

Millions for White Biotechnology

The Dutch government has granted the B-BASIC consortium 25 million euro in order to execute its research programme. B-BASIC is a consortium of Universities, research institutions and industrial parties. The programme focuses on the development of new bio-based production methods for the chemical (and energy) industry which are rooted in the current explosive increase in fundamental insights in molecular biology through the genomics revolution, combined with advanced bioprocess technology and existing chemical knowledge. B-BASIC is organized as an NWO-ACTS research programme, as are three other programmes in the same ACTS proposition "Integrating Chemistry and Energy for Sustainability". This large programme aims to make quantum leap jumps in technological knowledge that will make it possible for chemical and energy companies to manufacture their product in a sustainable matter, while maintaining and even improving their economical position. Research in the B-BASIC optimally benefits from the latest breakthroughs in Genomics research by using the new insights to develop processes that can convert biomass into chemicals using biocatalysts as microorganisms and enzymes.

(Source: NWO/B-BASIC, 11-12-2003)

Leiden University to offer new masters

At the faculty of Mathematics and Natural Science (W&N) at Leiden University the masters programmes are being carried out for a while now, all in English. Biologist prof. dr. Jan Kijne who is responsible for education in the faculty board: "We already had a five year education programme, consisting of - roughly - three plus two. The only thing we had to do was make a split. The last two years were already focussed on research." However, this does not mean that W&N doesn't offer new scienitific programmes, says Kijne. Next to the traditional masters and the newer ones such as Life, Science and Technology, we will offer three new masters. In collaboration with Delft University we will offer the masters Nanoscience, Industrial Ecology and Bioinformatics.

(Source: Mare, 18-12-2003)

New gene causes non-hereditary breast cancer

Breast and ovular cancer can be the direct result of mutations on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, in cases of hereditary forms of cancer. But, most cases of breast cancer are non-hereditary. Now it appears that the BRCA2 gene is also involved in non-hereditary forms of breast and ovular cancer. This is due to interaction with a new protein, called EMSY, which was discovered recently by Ed Schuuring of the Expression Profiling section of the Groningen genomics Centre, in co-operation with British, Canadian and French researchers. The researchers published their results on 26 November 2003 in Cell (a paid-access publication). EMSY produces a protein that specifically binds to a BRCA2 gene and blocks the latter`s function. BRCA2 is repairing damage to DNA. When this protein looses its function, gene mutations will accumulate which in turn raises the risk for cancer. The EMSY gene is amplified in one in six women with non-hereditary forms of ovular cancer and in one in eight women with non-hereditary forms of breast cancer. Due to this, too much EMSY protein is produced which blocks the function of BRCA2. The Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) was also involved in the research project. Graduate student Katja Jordanova analysed on which chromosome the EMSY gene is located. EMSY appeared to be located on chromosome 11, already having a reputation in non-heredity breast cancer, since Cycline D1 that can be amplified in non-hereditary forms of breast cancer is located closely to EMSY.

(Source: Mare / NRC Handelsblad, 18-12-2003 and 30/29-11-2003)

What it takes to be successful in the life sciences industry

'If your idea concerns a research tool, don`t be tempted to sell it as a drug discovery company.' Noubar Afeyan warns the audience to be taken on by the `business model of the day`. Five years ago, nobody could raise money for a drug development company because everyone invested in platform technologies. Today, it`s completely the opposite. That is why Dr. Afeyan stresses the importance of being true to your initial idea. Trying to sell it as something that it`s not is a guaranteed ticket to failure, according to Afeyan. When it comes to failure, Afeyan doesn`t beat around the bush: 'Most start-ups fail, 9 out of 10 don`t make it. The problem is that the few big success stories mask the high failure rate.' But why is it that most start-ups are unable to become full-grown companies? The answer is simple: 'because so many things can go wrong'. Afeyan shows a list of the minimum needs for success, which ranges from strong leadership, new technology and sufficient capital, to market acceptance, response to competitive threats and good management on all aspects of the company. To unite all the required abilities in a small enterprise is not easy, to put it mildly. The fact that Afeyan compares a start-up to a patient whose immune system has been completely suppressed, says it all. 'If such a patient ventures out into the open, it doesn`t really matter what kind of infection comes along, it will surely kill him.' Even with these gloomy prospects, Afeyan is very optimistic on life science business. But that is no surprise, because entrepreneurs are always optimists, otherwise they would never even think about starting a business. Optimism, patience and persistence are the minimum requirements to make it in today`s industry. And then there is always luck, hard to grasp but crucial to all entrepreneurs. Afeyan describes an entrepreneur as a paranoid optimist. Combining that with his view of venture capitalists as sceptical optimists, makes the combination of both paranoid sceptics. But Afeyan is convinced that when both parties are open with each other and really believe in the whole adventure, the result will be a team of deliberate optimists and that is probably the best starting point for any new company. Noubar Afeyan is CEO of Flagship Ventures.

(Source: Netherlands Genomics Initiative, January 2004)

Crucell on themove with commercial agreements

Crucell and Aventis announced that they have entered into a strategic agreement to further develop and commercialize novel influenza vaccine products based on Crucell`s proprietary PER.C6 cell line technology. The agreement covers both pandemic and epidemic influenza vaccines, which up to now have been part of Crucell`s in-house product development program. Under the terms of the agreement, Aventis Pasteur, the vaccines business of Aventis, receives an exclusive license to research, develop, manufacture and market cell-based influenza vaccines using Crucell`s unique PER.C6 technology. Crucell also announced that it has signed a non-exclusive PER.C6 technology research and commercialization license agreement with Biogen Idec, for the production of recombinant proteins to be used in in-house antibody discovery programs. Biogen Idec is one of the top three biotechnology companies in the United States. In a commercially attractive month for Crucell the company also granted U.S.-based Pfizer an exclusive license to develop and commercialize Crucell`s West Nile Virus veterinary vaccine for use in horses. In June 2003 Crucell partnered with Israeli Kimron Veterinary Institute to develop a West Nile virus veterinary vaccine for use in geese in Israel. Crucell and Kimron anticipate approval of the veterinary vaccine in Israel in 2004. Pfizer will be responsible for the development of the vaccine for use in horses. According to sources within the industry, 8 million doses of the vaccine have already been used in the U.S. and Canada since approval of the first vaccine in 2001, at a cost of $25 per dose, including veterinary fees. This suggests a very attractive current US market of at least tens of millions of dollars.

(Source: Pharma Live/BioExchange, 15/13/07-01-2004)

TechnoPartner takes action to improve technostarter climate

On Friday 9 January 2004, Secretary of State Van Gennip and Minister Van der Hoeven sent the action programme TechnoPartner "From Knowledge to Prosperity" to the Parliament (Tweede Kamer). The action progamme aims at enhancing the climate for technology start-ups in The Netherlands. In comparison with other countries the amount of spin-offs from knowledge institutions is lagging behind. "The quality of publicly financed knowledge is high, but this knowledge is insufficiently used. Due to this, we are not fully making use of the innovative power of techno start-ups," according to Secretary of State, Van Gennip. The ambition of the action programme is to transform The Netherlands into a country where researchers and (under)graduate students easily start up their own company, where knowledge institutions and companies support technostarters and venture capitalists invest in them. To realise these ambitions, the TechnoPartner action programme consists of a series of coherent and concrete actions:

- TechnoPartner Seed facility, to supply the capital needs of technostarters.

- TechnoPartner Granting Knowledge Exploitation (SKE) to enhance the use of scientific knowledge by technostarters from within or outside the knowledge institution.

- TechnoPartner-platform to offer information and expertise and to put technostarter bottle-necks on the agenda.

TechnoPartner will also take actions to introduce entrepreneurship in education and research. TechnoPartner comes in the place of Twinning, Dreamstart and BioPartner.

(Source: Ministry of Economic Affairs, 09-01-2004)

Project plan Centre for Society and Genomics approved

The supervisory board of the Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI) gave its approval to the project plan for the Centre for Society and Genomics (CSG). Following this approval the centre which is led by prof dr. Hub Zwart of Nijmegen University officially kicked off on January 1, 2004. The CSG is the fifth Genomics 'Zwaartepunt' that will be financed by the NGI. The CSG's main objective is to carry out a coherent and innovative research- and communicaction programme focused at the societal aspects of genomics research. The centre combines knowledge from current research on this area with new research projects that will inititated by the CSG. By bringing scientists from different research areas together within the CSG, a critical mass is created which can compete on an international level. First, the CSG will carry out 2-year graduate projects in collaboration with the other Genomics Zwaartepunten. The projects will focus on the following themes: Screening and Prevention (social impact of national public health screening programmes); Transparance and Confidence (public opinion on GM food and crops); Innovation and Imagination (public perception of industrial innovation); After these two-year projects the CSG will expand its activities and strengthen co-operation and interaction with other parties such as research groups, public institutions and organisations.

(Source: NGI, 20 December 2003)
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Qiagen and Strathmann Biotec sign deal with Corautus Genetics

Qiagen NV and Strathmann Biotech AG have signed a manufacturing agreement with Corautus Genetics Inc. to produce VEGF-2 plasmid for anticipated Phase III trials and future commercial use. Corautus has in inventory the VEGF-2 plasmid required for its upcoming Phase IIb clinical trial. The VEGF-2 plasmid will be produced at Strathmann`s newly-built facility in Dengelsberg, Germany. The facility was designed and built specifically for plasmid DNA production. Corautus` therapy, which is considered regenerative medicine, seeks to treat the underlying causes of severe coronary artery disease through direct injection of VEGF-2 into ischemic cardiac muscle. Based on data from earlier clinical trials - Phase I and IIa have been completed - Corautus believes that when VEGF-2 is introduced into ischemic cardiac muscle, it will stimulate the growth of new blood vessels and improve cardiac function. The VEGF-2 is delivered via a non-viral vector system in which the naked DNA plasmid is injected directly into the tissue where the gene transfer occurs. Corautus believes that there are several advantages to this over other gene transfer delivery systems including minimal side effects and the fact that the gene is not inserted into the genome. Strathmann`s plasmid DNA manufacturing capabilities combined with Qiagen`s expertise in nucleic acid purification addresses plasmid DNA manufacturing for gene therapy applications.


(Source: Business Wire, 08-01-2004)


BioASP news

LiveLists added to SRS

The databank LiveLists has been added to BioASP's SRS service. LiveLists functions as a bridge between GenBank ID and accession number of a nucleotide or protein sequence. You can use this databank to easily look up a GenBank ID and find the corresponding accession number. An accession number is a unique code of a protein or nucleotide sequence. With the accession number you can find more information about the sequence in other database such as EMBL (for nucleotide sequences or SwissProt (for protein sequences). In the future our database manager will create hyperlinks from the accession codes in LiveLists to relevant databases to speed up database searching.


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Starting up BioRange

BioRange is getting started. Two things have to be done before the first research projects can be launched: 1) setting up the organization of the research program and 2) evaluation of the proposals and adjust them - if necessary - to the scientific facts of today.

This implies clustering of projects within scientific themes. A Scientific Committee is being appointed to evaluate the proposals and to watch over the scientific themes. A Proof-of-Concept stage will be developed to tune and disseminate the different project results.

The result of these activities will be a plan that describes the scientific and organizational frame for projects that are part of the BioRange program. Hopefully, the first projects can start in April 2004. For more information, please contact Bob Hertzberger.

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Searching literature: a common and essential part of research. Thankfully, there is Medline, but the quantity of information in Medline is literally overwhelming. Enters Collexis - a concept based retrieval application for Medline. Collexis® creates a so-called fingerprint for each article, that describes not only which concepts are represented, but also and as importantly, what weight is given to each concept.

Using Collexis, you also build up a fingerprint with keywords, and with their weights. Now a search becomes a matter of matching the search fingerprint with the fingerprints in the Collexis catalog: an extremely fast process. With Collexis®, an information search that used to take months of searching by a team of specialists, is done within a day. With no loss of quality in the results!

Registered users of BioASP can obtain an account for Collexis.

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Enter Protein World with Genome Quest

Protein World is the largest protein knowledge database based on rigid Smith-Waterman sequence comparisons. The database currently covers about 450,000 sequences derived from 106 species. Soon this will be updated to 140 species!

Sophisticated clustering together with querying using popular algorithms like Blast, allows you to investigate proteins and their relations at the inter- and intra species level. From now on you can use the Genome Quest software to query the Protein World data. With this software you can search protein world clusters using the BLAST, Smith & Waterman or Fragment Search algorithms. You can also make selections within the clusters or browse through them. Registered users of BioASP can obtain an account for Protein World/Genome Quest.

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Virtual Reality Simulation and Technology Seminar

On Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 February 2004, Pro Systems will organise a seminar aimed at the Dutch Virtual Reality (VR) and Simulation market. During this seminar existing VR and simulation tools as well as new technologies will be demonstrated.

For this occasion an Immersive Theatre with a 'curved screen' will be set up. With three beamers a virtual world will be created on this screen. Also, a so-called 'Dome' will be presented in which vistors will experience 180 degrees projection as an effect of a special lense. This kind of projection is especially suited for military or transport simulations as well as for a 'Virtual Walkthrough' in a building plan. Next to these features all kinds of VR tools, as well as software and hardware, will be presented. Tuesday 17 February will focus on Simulation and Wednesday 18 February will be aimed at Virtual Reality. More information on, and how to registrate for the seminar can be found at the Pro Systems website.


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