Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oncolytic viruses in white blood cells

Here's an interesting BBC article describing how white blood cells can be engineered to deliver oncolytic viruses to a cancer site (link).  The original article can be found here, behind a paywall.

Pfizer picks up drug delivery technology

GEN reports that Pfizer is picking up Halozyme's Enhanze drug delivery technology:
Enhanze is Halozyme’s drug delivery platform based on the company’s recombinant human hyaluronidase enzyme (rHuPH20). “Enhanze enables biologics to be delivered as a simple subcutaneous injection,” said Gregory I. Frost, Ph.D., president and CEO, Halozyme. Pfizer will be able to combine rHuPH20 with its biologics directed to up to six targets. 
In a 2007 paper (it's behind a paywall), Frost explains the rationale behind the development of rHuPH20, a soluble enzyme that breaks down hyaluronan in intercellular spaces.  In doing so, injection of volumes larger than 2mL is made possible, which opens up the door for self-injection of a wider array of biologic drugs, such as antibodies.  These typically can't be concentrated enough to be delivered in under 2mL injections and need to be delivered by IV.  Frost puts it concisely:
Intravenous infusions require skilled intervention and are, thus, typically performed in a physician’s office or hospital. In contrast, local injections of chronic therapies can permit family members or patients themselves to administer the mediation outside the hospital setting.
It's a good move for Pfizer and great win for Halozyme.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A new term to remember: "klerokinesis"

Genetic Engineering Technology reports on a new type of cell division discovered at the University of Wisconsin:
The researchers found that [after blocking cell division], rather than appearing abnormal, daughter cells ended up looking normal most of the time.  "We started with two nuclei in one cell," continued Dr. Mark Burkard. "To our great surprise, we saw the cell pop apart into two cells without going through mitosis." Each of the two new cells inherited an intact nucleus enveloping a complete set of chromosomes. The splitting occurred, unpredictably, during a delayed growth phase rather than at the end of mitosis.
"We had a hard time convincing ourselves because this type of division does not appear in any textbook," noted Dr. Burkard.
The new form of division is called "klerokinesis", which is derived from "kleros", a term for allotted inheritance of farmland in Ancient Greece.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

There's no market like a global market

A post at Trade Secrets discusses the needs of a bioscience ecosystem:

In most business case examples, a lot of attention is placed on having the right product and a company with the right people, with enough money to run towards the next milestone/exit point.  This blog post walks through Singapore's experience over the past thirty years as an example,
The reasons for Singapore’s incredible success is the subject of heated debate, but two factors stand out – its proximity to large and growing markets (China, S. Korea, etc), and its early development of a government-backed bioscience ecosystem to support companies including services, manufactures and, critically, cash.
In an ecosystem, three factors are important: “food”, “fuel”, and “space”.  In economic terms, "food" is described as a supply of innovation; “fuel” is access to entrepreneurial energy and a constant supply of investment cash; and “space” is a supportive political and economic environment.

The catch is that despite having these three factors in ample supply, biosciences economy will hit soon hit a ceiling without an extra nudge:
To develop and sustain a high-growth, scalable, bioscience economy there must also be a reliable and economical route to global markets. This is a vital component that requires innovation in terms of business models and in terms of applying government assistance to reach external markets.
Seems reasonable for the most part.  Local markets for biotechnology products don't exist, except when solving regional problems.

Some other miscellany:

Personalized medicine is being oversold, according to Canada's Globe & Mail.

On why elevator pitches are important for scientists, too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Susan Solomon explains benefits of stem cells for drug screening

Susan Solomon, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, gave a TED talk about the promise of stem cell based drug screening back in June.  It's definitely worth hearing what Solomon has to say about all the current, real world, uses of stem cell technologies, especially regarding drug screening:

"But what you can do with human stem cells, now, is actually create avatars, and you can create the cells, whether it's the live motor neurons or the beating cardiac cells or liver cells or other kinds of cells, and you can test for drugs, promising compounds, on the actual cells that you're trying to affect. ... You're not going to have to wait 13 years until you've brought a drug to market, only to find out that actually it doesn't work, or even worse, harms people."
For more examples of iPS based drug screening, have a look at an article I wrote for Signals Blog in 2010.  It's a little bit dated but the science still applies today.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stress induces epigenetic changes

A very nice report that came from the Max Planck Institute shows that traumatic stress can induce changes in DNA that affect our ability to cope with future stress.  It's been published in Nature Neuroscience, as is a nice extension of the story which many of the authors reported on in 2008 to show stress associated SNPs in the FKPB5 region.

The team undertaking this study found that changes in the regulation of a gene called FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5) lead to an increase of FKBP5 gene activity in adulthood.  However, the epigenetic changes only happen in response to childhood stress events and not in adults, and only people with specific genetic signatures are susceptible to FKBP5 alterations.

Will FKBP5 testing become a method to identify people at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, and will a similarly performing gene be found for adult stress response?   If so, it might lead to methods to screen people out of high stress occupations, or at least to identify those who shouldn't be put in highly stressful situations.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A brief introduction

After spending several years writing articles and reports in the scientific arena, not to mention ghost-writing bits and pieces of many academic articles and grant applications, I thought it would be good to start collecting and sharing the observations and insights that I encounter on a day-to-day basis.

I hope that you'll enjoy the posts that emerge in the future.