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R&D news in brief

Our weekly round-up of drug discovery and development stories.

US stem cell lines contaminated

Embryonic stem cell lines available for research in the US are contaminated and possibly dangerous to use, scientists have warned. Researchers from the University of California found that the stem cell lines contained a non-human molecule that human cells are unable to make called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). Tests revealed that stem cells containing Neu5Gc became, effectively, like animal cells and were attacked by human antibodies. The stem cell lines were the only lines cleared for use by US President George Bush in 2001 as part of the US' strict stem cell policy. Bush has refused to make any further stem cell lines available.

Sativex strong in trials

GW Pharmaceuticals' cannabis-based treatment Sativex has performed well in phase III clinical trials. The trial, involving 177 patients with severe cancer pain, found that approximately 40 per cent of patients who were administered Sativex showed a greater than 30 per cent improvement in their pain. GW Pharmaceuticals is now expected to conduct a phase III confirmatory trial which the company hopes will secure regulatory approval of the treatment.

HIV vaccine trial launched

Merck and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have launched a clinical trial to investigate an HIV vaccine. The vaccine stimulates HIV-specific cellular immunity which prompts the body to produce T-cells that kill HIV-infected cells. Merck and NIAID hope to enrol approximately 1,500 people on the trial which will take place in centres across North and South America, the Caribbean and Australia. ìIf this study finds that the vaccine can prevent or control infection, we will work with Merck to evaluate the vaccine in a larger number of volunteers,î said Dr Margaret Johnston from NIAID.

Call for innovation rethink

Pharmaceutical companies need to rethink their innovation strategies in order to address R&D pipeline constraints, a new report has revealed. The report, from Accenture and CMR International, found that companies focusing the majority of their discovery investments on first-in-class products risk impeding the speed and success of bringing a broad range of new therapeutics to market. ìWhile research aimed at developing first-in-class therapeutics will always play a central role in a pharmaceutical organisation's ability to bring better medicines to market, companies do need to rethink their innovation strategies,î said Ann Baker from Accenture's Health & Life Sciences practice.

PD gene link

A mutation in a recently discovered gene is the most common cause of Parkinson's disease identified to date, US researchers have found. Scientists from the US National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found that a mutation in the gene LRRK2 appears to occur in at least one of every 60 people who have the disease. The mutation could be responsible for up to 5 per cent of Parkinson's disease cases in people with a family history of the disorder, the scientists suggest.

Nucleic therapeutics potential

The market potential for nucleic acid-based therapeutics could exceed $210bn, a recent study has estimated. The report, Nucleic Acid-Based Therapeutics: World Markets, Developments and Applications, by Kalorama Information, examined the market potential for nucleic acid therapeutics in 17 diseases areas in each of the top seven world healthcare markets. It revealed that neurology has the greatest market potential for the treatment. ìNucleic acid-based therapeutics present a solid and potentially very profitable approach to disease treatment and prevention,î said Dr Kenneth Krul, author of the report.

Animal rights campaigns persist

Animal rights campaigners are continuing to harass pharmaceutical companies, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has discovered. Figures released by the ABPI show that increasing numbers of suppliers are being forced to stop providing their services to pharma companies, with 42 instances in the last quarter of 2004. Increases in the number of abusive or threatening phone calls and damage to company, personal and public property were also reported.

30th September 2008

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