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R&D news in brief

Our weekly round-up of drug discovery and development stories

Britain vulnerable to bird flu

A UK scientist has warned that the deadly bird flu virus would be ìimpossible to stopî if it ever reached British shores. Professor Neil Ferguson, part of a research team investigating the worst-case scenario for the disease, said the only chance of avoiding a global disaster is to eliminate the strain of the disease as soon as possible at its source in south-east Asia. The H5N1 avian flu strain, which infects poultry, has already killed more than 50 people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Acambis to trial `all-flu' vaccine

UK biotech firm Acambis says it is developing a new shot that could potentially offer permanent protection against all types of flu. The Cambridge-based vaccine specialist believes the experimental drug, which should enter human trials in the next few months, may also offer protection against a flu pandemic. Acambis has entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement with Belgium's Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology for the project.

Heart drug can treat cancer

A natural drug sold to improve the heart's pumping ability could be effective in the fight against cancer, according to US scientists. A University of Wisconsin-Madison research team says it has successfully tweaked Digoxin (digitalis), which comes from the foxglove plant, to make it target tumours. Dr Jon Thorson and colleagues found they were able to change sugars attached to the drug using a technique called neo-glyco-randomisation. It is hoped the drug can be changed sufficiently that it will treat cancer without having any effect on the heart.

HRT cancer risk

The risk of developing breast cancer through taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is lower than many women believe, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal. Researchers at the New South Wales Breast Cancer Institute in Australia estimated a woman's individual risk of breast cancer up to the age of 79 in relation to HRT. Calculations showed that the average risk of a 50-year-old woman developing breast cancer without HRT was 6.1 per cent, which rises to 6.7 per cent if she takes combined HRT for five years, and 7.7 per cent for 10 years.

`Less risky' gene therapy

The risks of gene therapy can be reduced by inserting new genes at sites in the human genome where they can work without harming the patient, according to scientists working in Finland for UK biotech firm Ark Therapeutics. While, until now, gene therapy delivery has relied on the insertion of DNA almost at random into human chromosomes, Ark said it was using targeting molecules, known as integrase fusion proteins, to guide new genes to safe sites, rather than undesired and potentially harmful positions.

30th September 2008

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