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R&D news in brief

Our weekly round-up of drug discovery and development stories

Bird flu vaccine discovery

PowderMed, a small privately-owned UK biotechnology company, has developed a vaccine against one strain of bird flu, a development it claims could protect against any possible global pandemic. The vaccine, which is based on genetic sequencing, can be self-administered and does not need refrigeration, is expected to enter clinical trials next year. According to Dr Clive Dix, of the Oxford-based company, the vaccine would be so cheap and quick to produce that it ìcould save the worldî if a crisis did occur.

Cannabis could aid IBD treatments

Cannabis-based drugs may reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a study. A team from Bath University, led by Dr Karen Wright, found that people with IBD had an increased number of a certain type of cannabinoid receptors in their body. Wright and her team believe this is the body's way of reducing inflammation and that giving a cannabis-based drug that would bind to these receptors could boost this action.

The team examined gut samples from both healthy people and patients with IBD in the search for two receptors CB1, and CB2, which are known to respond to cannabis-like compounds. Results showed that IBD patients had significantly more CB2 receptors, raising hopes that very selective cannabis-derived compounds could be used to influence CB2 activity and alter disease symptoms. While the results are good news for IBD suffers, experts have warned that much more work is needed.

Alzheimer's research maturing

Progress in the race for a successful Alzheimer's treatment has been given a boost after a range of pharmaceutical companies agreed to a larger degree of cooperation. Companies pursuing amyloid-based therapies currently have no consistent way of knowing if a treatment is working, due to the lack of any known biomarker. As a result, companies including Pfizer, Merck, Lilly and Elan have decided to partner the US National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration to identify ways of measuring the progression of Alzheimer's disease in people.

Industry has agreed to pick up one third of the cost (£34.3m) of the five-year study, known as the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Dr Peter Boxer, associate director of central nervous system pharmacology at Pfizer Global R&D said: ìIt is so difficult [to develop an Alzheimer's treatment without biomarkers] that the drug companies are collaborating.î Alzheimer's currently affects 4.5m Americans - the number could triple by 2050.

Mouse breast cancer can infect human cells

The international research team at the Viennese Christian-Doppler-Laboratory for Gene Therapeutic Vector Development has shown for the first time that Mouse Mammary Tumor Virus (MMTV), which causes breast cancer in mice, can also affect human cells. The results, published in Cancer Research, though important, do not conclude that the same virus is involved in the breast cancer development in humans. British scientist, Prof Walter H. G¸nzburg, stated that ìin order to confirm this causal connection scientifically, further research is still necessaryî.

30th September 2008

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