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Rewriting Life

Biotech Briefs

MILESTONE

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given Foxborough, MA-based startup Cyberkinetics the green light to begin human tests of its “brain-machine interface” device (see “Brain Power,” TR April 2002). The device, a four-millimeter-square array of 100 tiny electrodes (left) that will be implanted in the brains of up to five quadriplegic people and connected by wires to a nearby computer, promises to let the patients control the computer-and associated communication tools and other aids-using only their brain signals.

METRIC

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The biotech industry started off the year with one of its best financing quarters ever, according to a report from Burrill and Company

IPO

Montvale, NJ’s Memory Pharmaceuticals made its debut on the Nasdaq national market in April, with an initial public offering that raised some $35 million in the first day. The company, whose cofounders include Nobel laureates Eric Kandel and Walter Gilbert, is aiming to build on Kandel’s work on the biology of memory to develop treatments for central-nervous-system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Schizophrenia, and age-related memory loss.

ADVANCE

A new vaccine might succeed where cigarette-pack warning labels have failed. Nabi Biopharmaceuticals of Rockville, MD, has completed early human tests of a vaccine aimed at preventing nicotine addiction and helping hooked smokers quit. The trial proved the ability of the vaccine to generate antibodies against nicotine; further tests planned to conclude in the second half of this year will measure the vaccine’s ability to help smokers kick the habit.

FOLLOW-UP

Cambridge, MA-based startup Alnylam Pharmaceuticals filed preliminary papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering. Alnylam is one of a handful of companies that have sprung up in recent years around RNA interference (RNAi), in which small pieces of RNA are used to turn specific genes off-to block the progress of a disease, for example (see “The RNA Cure?TR November 2003). Alnylam’s aim is to develop RNAi therapeutics for ailments such as age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in older people, and Parkinson’s disease.

ACQUISITION

In a stock deal worth $9.5 billion, Fairfield, CT-based General Electric has acquired Amersham, a British medical-diagnostics and life sciences firm. Among the benefits that GE executives expect: faster development of molecular imaging and personalized medicine.

FORECAST

The nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) predicts that, despite debate, genetically modified crops will blossom. The ISAAA projects the crops’ global market value to reach $5 billion by next year; within the next five years, it predicts, 10 million farmers in at least 25 countries will plant 100 million hectares of biotech crops.

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