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MIT Technology Review

Biotech Briefs

September 1, 2004

FORECAST

Over the next five years, India’s burgeoning biotech industry will generate $5 billion in revenues and more than one million jobs, according to a report recently released by Ernst and Young.

ADVANCE

Beijing, China’s Sinovac Biotech has begun the first test of a SARS vaccine in humans. Over the course of the 210-day test, 24 volunteers will receive the Sinovac vaccine, one of several under development around the world. If the vaccine proves safe in this trial, Sinovac will have to conduct larger human studies to show that it effectively blocks SARS infection.

INITIATIVE

In a move that could facilitate drug discovery, the National Institutes of Health has thrown its weight behind the nascent field of chemical genomics with the launch of a new research center. Chemical genomics aims to understand how “small molecules” – the type of compound found in most drugs on the market today – interact with all the proteins encoded in the genome. The NIH Chemical Genomics Center’s goal is to study more than 100,000 small molecules within its first year; as many as 10 additional centers will join it in an NIH-funded chemical-genomics consortium by late 2005.

IPO

In July, Berlin-based Epigenomics raised about 42 million euros ($5 million) in its initial public offering on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Founded in 1998, Epigenomics is developing a host of cancer diagnostic tests based on its ability to detect DNA methylation – a sort of molecular on/off switch for genes.

FOLLOW-UP

In a blow to the already battered field of gene therapy, Alameda, CA-based Avigen announced that it has discontinued its human trials of a gene-based treatment for hemophilia. The trials were once viewed by researchers in the field as a chance for gene therapy to redeem itself after a spate of prominent failures (see “High Stakes for Gene Therapy,” TR March/April 2000). Halting them was part of Avigen’s decision to refocus its R&D on neurological disorders.

COLLABORATION

General Electric has forged a joint research collaboration with Celera Genomics Group and CeleraDiagnostics, the latest in a series of moves by GE to strengthen its focus on personalized medicine and imaging. In their first project together, the companies will develop new cancer-imaging agents that target cancer-associated cell-surface proteins identified by Celera Genomics.