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R&D news in brief

Our weekly round-up of drug discovery and development stories

Bird flu fears bolster small firm stocks

Despite Roche and sanofi-aventis benefiting from government stockpiling of anti-viral drugs in preparation for a possible mutation of the bird flu virus, investors are keeping a close watch on a number of smaller companies also working on anti-flu products. Australian firm Biota Holdings, which markets Relenza, has seen its share price jump more than four-fold in recent months as the market takes a bet on whether, should a human flu outbreak occur, the bigger pharma firms will be able to sustain supply in the face of a surge in demand. Chiron, of Emeryville, California, may also be a contender with what it claims is a `unique' vaccine supplement that could offer inoculation from a smaller amount of vaccine product. Recent contamination scares have blighted Chiron's stock growth, though speculation of a Novartis takeover offers some improvement.

More ethical stem cell production

A US-based group of researchers claim to have developed a method to remove embryonic stem cells without damaging or destroying the host embryo, an enhancement that could allow stem cells to be harvested and stored before a child is even born. Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, said that the new technique, which dodges much of the opposition to stem cell research that centres on the `death' of the donor embryo, was only proven in mice to date but if replicated successfully in humans should allow the donor embryo to continue growing unabated. However, this proved only to be the case in less than 50 per cent of the murine embryos, and some still harbour doubts that the development will mitigate opposition. “It is difficult to see any parent willing to risk having cells extracted from their own child while it is an embryo,” commented Professor Richard Gardner, chairman of the Royal Society's working group on stem cells research and cloning.

30th September 2008

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