Roundup

This week witnessed a horrifying plane crash in Ukraine. Another Malaysian Airlines flight went down – this time shot down by a missile. Almost 300 lives were lost in this crash. Among the people killed on this flight was a group of AIDS researchers, traveling to the International AIDS Conference to be held in Australia. The entire AIDS research is in a state of shock. “These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence,” said President Barack Obama at a White House news conference.

Here’s a roundup of other articles and news on genomics, medicine, business and policy from this week.

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Sciberomics Weekly Roundup (Image Credit: www.dhs.gov)

Science and Medicine

Malaria and resistance to drugs

Resistance is an emerging problem for drugs used to treat malaria. Newer, more effective approaches are necessary to counter this scourge. Now, researchers from Australia report in a recent study published in Nature about a protein designated PTEX that can form a novel drug target against malaria.

Gene Therapy and the heart

A study published this week demonstrates that ordinary cardiac muscle cells can be converted into specialized cells that beat steadily. These cells were converted by using a gene therapy procedure. If successful, this procedure may replace implanted electronic pacemakers for cardiac patients with rhythm abnormalities.

We choose our friends wisely!

It has always been a mystery as to how we “choose” friends. Now genetics or genomics may have the answer. Or at least, an answer. A recent study using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) shows that we pick friends who have more DNA in common with us than those we do not. Friends are as similar genetically as fourth cousins (~1% genes similar).

Gut microbiome and disease

Our gut is home to hundreds of thousands of microbes that are increasingly being recognized as being important in maintaining our health. However, the question still remains whether sequencing the gut microbiome is of any value in predicting the health. This article discusses how we can detect changes in our health by looking at our microbiome.

Clinical Studies

New Alzheimer’s Trial

In partnership with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute from Phoenix, AZ, Novartis will conduct a clinical study to test experimental drugs for patients with Alzheimer’s who are genetically predisposed to the disease but without symptoms. The two test drugs will target the amyloid protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. This study will be funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, through a $33.2 million grant.

Regulatory

Approval for CombiMatrix test

The molecular diagnostics company, CombiMatrix Corporation recently developed a chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) test that can identify development disorders in children with developmental delays, birth defects, physical deformities or autism or autism spectrum disorder. This test was conditionally approved by the New York Department of Health for patient samples.

Business

Translation of Genomics - Illumina buys Myraqa

The sequencing giant Illumina recently acquired Myraqa, a consulting firm that specializes in companion diagnostics. Experts believe that this deal will strengthen Illumina’s capabilities to take genomics into the clinic. Myraqa is expected to provide Illumina with expertise in regulatory, quality, clinical, biostatistics and development, focusing on regulatory strategy and application support.

What a week! I spent most of it at the 2014 BIO International Convention and truly enjoyed the feeding frenzy. Sessions covering biopharmaceutical companies, business partnering, new therapies, science, the business of science, talks, panel discussions, high-profile keynotes by Richard Branson and Hillary Clinton, exhibitor sessions, receptions, and watching World Cup football (soccer) matches – there was so much to listen to, so much to learn, so much to think about.

Sciberomics Science Biotech BIO2014
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Keynote Luncheon, BIO2014 with Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of BIO (Image by author)

Towards the end of BIO2014, the Scientific American WorldView session featured a thought-provoking discussion on the biotech and life sciences development on the global stage. David Brancaccio, host of Marketplace Morning Report moderated this session. It was here that the latest issue of Scientific American worldVIEW was released.

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David Brancaccio, host of Marketplace Morning Report at the BIO2014 Scientific American worldVIEW super-session (Image by author)

In addition, at Sciberomics, I have posted articles that I wrote while covering sessions at #BIO2014.

Sciberomics

Bioethics of Compassionate Use of Drugs

Drug Development – A Bioethical Minefield

Future of Cancer Therapeutics

Are Public-Private Partnerships The Way Forward?

Here’s a roundup of other articles and news on science, medicine, and policy from this week.

Science and Medicine

California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a state budget allocating $2 million for California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience (Cal-BRAIN) project. This project will be run in coordination with the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.

We are so “connected” to our cellphones today that phones now carry the microbiomes of their owners. Read more in the original study on microbiome and cellphone.

In a recent study published in the journal Nature, researchers have developed a vaccine against brain cancer and tested it in mice. This vaccine targets a specific mutation of isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 – IDH1, found in a subgroup of patient with the brain tumor, glioma. Studies in mice show that this vaccine can prevent tumor progression.

A new study shows that an implant into the brain of a paralyzed person helped him move his hand with the power of thought.

UK has revived an old competition and the people voted on what area of science this competition should cover. Antibiotic resistance was the people’s choice. Known as Longitude Prize, this initiative involves a prize of £10 million ($17 million).

A recent NPR news article talks about CRISPR, a new technology that allows editing the genome.

Business

The pharmaceutical giant Roche and startup Stratos Genomics will now collaborate to develop a method for single molecule sequencing of DNA fragments using protein nanopores.

That is all for this week. Now, it is time to ruminate on everything that went on this week. And I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend, watching football matches from the round of 16.

Happy Solstice Day!

As we wind up this week, I am already looking forward to the exciting event next week, right here in San Diego – 2014 BIO International Convention, the “world’s largest biotechnology gathering”. I will be blogging from BIO2014, though it has been hard to decide which sessions to write about because there are so many good ones to choose from. Stay tuned!

Here’s a roundup of articles and news on science, medicine, and policy from this week.

Sciberomics

This week I blogged about high diversity of cells in glioblastoma – a brain cancer with extremely poor prognosis. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) or transcriptomics of single cells from patient tumors was able to identify a highly heterogeneous population of cells in a tumor. This has implications for glioblastoma diagnosis and therapy. You can read more on my blog RNA-seq reveals glioblastoma heterogeneity.

Science Research Clinical Medicine
Weekly science roundup (Image credit: ASBMB.org)

Science and Medicine

The human immunodeficiency virus, aka HIV is notoriously difficult to eliminate from the body with drug therapy. This is at least in part because this virus can hide in the body. One way around it is to try and make the virus “announce” where it is. For this, in a recent study published in Science, scientists tried increasing the variation in the gene expression of the virus. In other words, they increased its “noise”, which in turn reactivated the latent, hidden HIV. This form of the virus is more sensitive to drugs.

The first precision medicine trial from the National Clinical Trials Network, Lung-MAP was launched. This trial will be conducted under a public-private collaboration. This trial is a multi-drug, biomarker-driven clinical trial for patients with advanced squamous cell lung cancer.

Takeda Pharmaceutical has voluntarily decided to end the development program for its investigational compound, orteronel (TAK-700). This is a nonsteroidal, selective inhibitor of 17,20-lyase that was being tested for prostate cancer. Orteronel was unable to extend overall survival in patients in phase III clinical trials.

Increasing advances in the microbiome research have revealed that the composition of microbiota in the gut can play an important role in the development of metabolic disorders. A recent study now shows that the diabetic drug, metformin can modulate the gut microbiome and in turn lead to better control of blood sugar.

Regulatory

The FDA is taking social media seriously as well. And it is about time. As a testament to this fact, the FDA has now proposed specific rules for listing risks on social media platforms.

Qiagen received FDA approval for CMV RGQ MDx Kit for human cytomegalovirus (CMV) – an assay that can allow rapid quantification of CMV DNA in patient samples, an important test for transplant patients.

Policy

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has announced that it is relaxing data-sharing rules to enable clinical trials data to undergo public scrutiny.

Business

The life sciences company Sequenom Laboratories is now collaborating with Quest Diagnostics. As part of this collaboration, Quest is set to offer national access to Sequenom’s MaterniT21 PLUS test. This test analyzes chromosomal material in cell-free fetal DNA of pregnant women and can help diagnose fetal chromosomal abnormalities.

It is the age of mergers and acquisitions. Now an academic institute is getting in on the game. University of Southern California is in discussions to possible acquire or merge with the Scripps Research Institute.

So let's call it a week. See you back next week with lots of exciting news from BIO2014.

Here’s a roundup of articles and news on science, medicine, and policy from this week.

Sciberomics

This week, I blogged about the use of next-generation sequencing for diagnosing infections – based on a case study published in last week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Around the Globe

Neuroscience World Cup
Neuroscience research allowed paraplegic to kick the football at the opening ceremony.

On 12th June 2014, the world witnessed the kickoff of the FIFA World Cup, 2014 in São Paulo, Brazil. And the biggest celebrity at this grand opening ceremony was neuroscience research! A 29-year old paraplegic (= paralyzed below the waist) wearing a min-controlled robotic suit kicked off the ball that marked the beginning of the World Cup. This suit was designed by a neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis. Read more on this on the NIH Director’s blog.

Science and Medicine

Why did I have that extra cookie? Or why did I not get up earlier this morning? Regrets…we all know what they are. Now, in an elegant study, neuroscientists show that rats show regret after making “wrong” choices. Read this news article in National Geographic news and the original paper in Nature Neuroscience.

Scientists have developed a new molecule that can glow either red or blue, depending on the drug levels in a patient’s blood. This molecule finds application for patients taking different drugs for diseases and it can be used to prevent overdosing. The glow from this molecule can be seen using a digital camera and can give “instant results”.

Are we an inherently violent species? Is our violence so deeply ingrained that evolution actually “takes this into account” while shaping us? Now a study published in Biological Reviews suggests that the human face (particularly the male) evolved to reduce the effect of injuries from direct punches to the face.

Science Research Clinical Medicine Roundup
Weekly science roundup (Image Credit: ASBMB.org)

Scientists from Imperial College London have produced genetic modified mosquitoes such that it will eventually lead to a “crash” in the mosquito population and help eradicate malaria. The Guardian has a detailed report: "GM mosquitoes a ‘quantum leap’ towards tackling malaria." The original study can be found here.

In a potentially game-changing study for the field of HIV medicine, by modifying the genome of inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), scientists have succeeded in producing white blood cells that are resistant to the human immunodeficiency virus.

A study conducted at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in this week’s issue of Science used single-cell RNA sequencing of glioblastoma tumor cells. This study demonstrates the high degree of intratumoral heterogeneity and complexity in glioblastoma that can have implications for treatment.

Regulatory

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Biogen Idec Inc.'s long-lasting hemophilia A drug, Eloctate. This drug is likely to be available in the US starting July.

FDA Approved Panitumumab Plus FOLFOX for Wild-Type KRAS Metastatic Colorectal Cancer.

Policy

Researchers should take heart – NIH funding for research is set to improve. A Senate Subcommittee approved a 2% increase in the NIH budget for research.

Business

WaferGen Biosystems, Inc. a biotech company working in the genomic analysis space recently filed for $40 million public offering.

Starting with today's edition, Sciberomics will present a weekly roundup of science research from around the globe.

ASCO Annual Meeting

This past week was super-busy – science-wise, with the NIH grant deadline, many significant papers being published, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago, IL. The fun of having to work on an NIH grant notwithstanding, my experience at ASCO makes me say that it was indeed an awesome meeting. Scientists and clinicians presented some very exciting research. To list all the important studies presented at ASCO would make this post a #longread. But here I am listing only a few of the many important clinical research studies that featured at this meeting:

Adjuvant Ipilimumab Significantly Improves Recurrence-Free Survival in Patients With High-Risk Stage III Melanoma

PD-1–Targeting Antibody Pembrolizumab Produces Long-Term Responses in Patients With Metastatic Melanoma

Cediranib Plus Olaparib Significantly Increases Progression-Free Survival in Women With Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

Chemotherapy Plus Either Bevacizumab or Cetuximab Results in Similar Survival Benefits in Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

Research News

There were several other notable developments in the research world of biology and medicine this week.

Science Research Clinical Medicine
Weekly science roundup (Image credit: ASBMB.org)

Increasing analyses of microbes from different locations in the human body has helped us understand the importance of the human microbiome. Now a study published in this week’s Nature (June 4, 2014) shows how early childhood malnutrition affects the maturation of gut microbes. Moreover, even after correcting this early malnutrition with diet, gut microbes do not sufficiently recover from the early insult and may require additional intervention.

A study published in Science (June 6, 2014) presents an innovative computational model that predicts when embryonic stem cells will self-renew or differentiate in culture. This model identifies, with high accuracy, a small number of transcription factors that can drive the stem cells either to pluripotency or to differentiation.

A new development in stem cell biology may signal a major advance for regenerative medicine. Scientists at Harvard show that by using Laser, they can stimulate human dental stem cells to differentiate and produce tissue regeneration. This research has implications for regenerative medicine for a variety of clinical applications.

The world of 3-D printing is witnessing exciting advances. Now to add to this excitement, scientists in Boston have been able to create synthetic blood vessels using 3-D printing. All the possible applications that this development can result in, makes it very noteworthy.

If you are planning for that late-night movie or an all-night work session, think again. It is very important to get a good night’s sleep or you risk developing Alzheimer's disease. The findings of a recent randomized clinical trial published in JAMA Neurology show that sleep deprivation increases levels of the protein beta-amyloid, which in turn increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

With the increasing use of computers, tablets and smartphones, handwriting is becoming a lost art. But now scientists and psychologists have research that shows how handwriting is important for brain development in kids and for increased understanding. “New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.”

Science Business News

Genomics being the new kid on the block, sequencing technology takes center stage today. Seeking to further expand its reach in molecular diagnostics to sequencing, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche acquired Genia Technologies Inc. DNA sequencing firm.

In the research world of today, collaborations, mergers, and acquisitions have become the key to success and survival. As a testament to this, we are witnessing a number of collaborations among different groups.

  1. Sysmex Inostics is collaborating with Merck to develop and commercialize a biomarker test (RAS kit) for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.
  2. NanoString and Celgene are collaborating to develop a companion diagnostic to support the clinical validation of the drug lenalidomide (REVLIMID) used for the treatment of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL).
  3. AstraZeneca’s MedImmune is developing a novel immune therapy for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (anti-PD-L1 therapy - MEDI4736). Now Roche’s Ventana has established collaboration with MedImmune to develop a companion diagnostic for this drug MEDI4736 that is currently in clinical studies.