Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stem cell hope for immune disease
Online - International News Network - Islamabad,Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Common immune system
disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis,
could one day be treatable with bone marrow
transplants, ...
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Stem cell hope for immune


ONLINE - International News Network
ISLAMABAD: Common immune system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis, could one day be treatable with bone marrow transplants, research suggests.

Currently, the procedure is reserved for life-threatening disorders because chemotherapy or radiotherapy is needed before a transplant can be done.

But a protein may do the same job without dangerous side-effects, a mouse study published in Science suggests. However, the technique is not yet ready for testing in humans.

The purpose of a bone marrow transplant is to infuse the body with healthy adult stem cells which are able to form fresh blood and immune cells.

In order for the new blood-forming stem cells to take hold, the faulty cells in the bone marrow must first be destroyed, but the aggressive therapies used can cause severe side effects, such as brain damage, increased risk of cancer or infertility.

A person with an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis has a defective immune system in which immune cells attack the person’s own body.

Treatment with a bone marrow transplant would give the patient an immune system that might not attack the body, but this could only be done if the technique was less dangerous.

A team from Stanford University in the US found that injecting mice with antibodies which latch on to specific proteins on the surface of blood-forming stem cells, destroyed the cells without harming the mice.

Blood-forming stem cells transplanted into the mice were then able to take up residence in the bone marrow and set up a new blood and immune system.

However, the barriers are still significant, the researchers said, as the work was done on a particular group of mice that are a poor mimic for the human immune system.

And it remains to be seen whether the same molecule on human blood-forming stem cells would be the right one to use.

"It is essentially a surgical strike against the blood-forming stem cells," said study author Dr Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

He added that he believed the hurdles to translating the research into humans could be overcome.

Dr Laura Bell, research communications officer at the MS Society, said: "Stem cell studies are an important avenue of research which hold promise in terms of treatments for MS.

"This early stage study is interesting and we look forward to seeing how the work translates into studies in people with MS."

Biogen Idec Abandons Sale, Loses $6 Billion in Value (Update3) Bloomberg.com: Exclusive

By Luke Timmerman


Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Biogen Idec Inc., the maker of the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, lost more than $5 billion in market value after saying it plans to remain independent.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, developer of drugs for cancer as well as MS said its business plan is working and it will no longer pursue a sale. Biogen fell $17.97, or 24 percent, to $57.91 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq stock market composite trading. Pfizer Inc., the world's biggest drugmaker, and Sanofi- Aventis SA had been considered potential acquirers.

Big drugmakers may have been turned off by complications stemming from Biogen's partnership with Genentech Inc. to market the cancer drug Rituxan and with Elan Corp. on Tysabri, said Eric Schmidt, an analyst with Cowen & Co. in New York. The price may also have been too high, he said.

``Perhaps there just weren't many big pharma companies interested in paying as much as AstraZeneca did for biotech assets like MedImmune at $58 a share,'' Schmidt said in a telephone interview. He rates the stock ``neutral,'' and said the stock market's reaction was ``appropriate.''

London-based AstraZeneca Plc bought MedImmune in June for about $14.7 billion.

Biogen repeated its financial forecast from September, saying Tysabri may generate at least $2.8 billion annually by 2010, and the company plans to introduce four new products or existing drugs for new diseases during that time. Biogen said it can produce 15 percent compound annual sales growth, and 25 percent compound annual growth in earnings per share.

Dependent on Tysabri

The projections may be overly optimistic, Schmidt said. Biogen depends on Tysabri, which was pulled from the market in February 2005 when it was linked to a rare, fatal brain infection. If the drug continues to grow, Biogen could achieve its goals. If more infections appear, ``it could be a zero,'' Schmidt said.

Biogen said it remains optimistic. The company has 15 medicines in the second phase of clinical testing or later, and it expects to see results from eight large trials by the end of 2008, said Naomi Aoki, a company spokeswoman.

James Mullen, 48, Biogen's chief executive officer, and all other executives will remain in their current roles, Aoki said. The company has 4,300 employees worldwide and has no plans for any layoffs, Aoki said.

``We're going to continue on as we had before, and we still feel we have extremely strong growth prospects,'' Aoki said.

Pipeline Drugs

Besides Tysabri, Biogen has built a pipeline of five other drugs in development for MS. Each fights the nerve disorder in a unique way and may add $1 billion in annual sales apiece if successful in clinical trials, Jason Kantor, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in San Francisco, said in an interview last week.

Multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that can harm speech, vision and movement, affects an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide. The market for MS drugs exceeded $5.5 billion in 2006 and is expected to double by 2013, according to market- research firm Frost & Sullivan in New York.

One of Biogen's two drugs in late-stage testing is vying to be the first oral pill against MS. Biogen researchers believe the compound, BG-12, works by damping down inflammation, while also protecting healthy cells. It would be used for relapsing, remitting MS, which affects about 85 percent of patients, according to the National MS Society, based in New York.

Another approach, also in final patient testing, uses the cancer drug Rituxan against primary progressive MS, a condition in which the disease worsens over time and for which there is no effective treatment.

Business as Usual

Biogen may have a hard time getting back to work, analysts said.

``It's very hard to announce a company is for sale, and then say `oops, we're calling it all off and going back to business as usual,''' Geoffrey Porges, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein & Co. in New York, said in an interview last week. Employees have been looking for other jobs or waiting for a buyout, he said. ``It's so disruptive.''

The company put itself up for sale, and hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. in October after billionaire investor Carl Icahn expressed interest in buying the company for $23 billion.

The idea was short-lived. Icahn made his interest known before the company announced his bid Oct. 12, and he withdrew it that same day, Biogen's Aoki said. The company later approached Icahn again, and he declined to make an offer, Aoki said.

Biogen approached all the major pharmaceutical companies individually and gave each an opportunity to review Biogen's operations, Aoki said. In the end, Biogen ``did not receive any definitive offers'' and decided its current strategy ``will result in attractive value for stockholders,'' the company said in the statement yesterday.

Biogen, founded in 1978, trails Amgen Inc., Genentech, Genzyme Corp. and Gilead Sciences Inc. by sales among biotechnology companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Luke Timmerman in San Francisco at ltimmerman@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 13, 2007 16:36 EST

Biogen Idec Abandons Sale, Loses $6 Billion in Value (Update1)
Bloomberg - USA
Another approach, also in final patient testing, uses the cancer drug Rituxan against primary progressive MS, a condition in which the disease worsens over ...
See all stories on this topic

Liberal NH newspaper slams Romney
United Press International - USA
"There was a time that he supported stem cell research and cited his own wife's multiple sclerosis in explaining his thinking; such research, he reasoned, ...
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Liberal N.H. newspaper slams Romney - UPI.com

Published: Dec. 24, 2007 at 7:50 AM

CONCORD, N.H., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been lambasted by a liberal New Hampshire newspaper as someone who "must be stopped."

A Concord Monitor editorial slammed the former Massachusetts governor, calling him "a disquieting figure who sure looks like the next president and most surely must be stopped."

The editorial recalled Romney's advocacy of gay rights in 1994, when he was running against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., for the U.S. Senate, and compared that with his current stance.

"These days, he makes a point of his opposition to gay marriage and adoption," it said.

The newspaper also attacked his record on scientific ethics.

"There was a time that he supported stem cell research and cited his own wife's multiple sclerosis in explaining his thinking; such research, he reasoned, could help families like his. These days, he largely opposes it," the editorial said.

Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden told CNN the criticisms were taken in stride.

"The Monitor's editorial board is regarded as a liberal one on many issues, so it is not surprising that they would criticize Governor Romney for his conservative views and platform," Madden said.

New Hampshire is the site of the first U.S. president preference primary early next month

Early Fine-Tuning Of Neural Connections May Turn Destructive Later In Life

Main Category: Neurology / Neuroscience News
Article Date: 24 Dec 2007 - 0:00 PST

The immune system helps to prune excess connections between neurons in the developing brains of young mice, according to scientists funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study, published in the December 14 issue of the journal Cell, sheds critical new light upon a fundamental process, while hinting at a likely mechanism behind neurodegenerative diseases like glaucoma and Alzheimer's disease.

Shortly after birth, the mammalian brain contains vast numbers of connections, or synapses, between neurons - many more than will be needed in adulthood. Scientists have known for years that the developing brain follows a use it or lose it rule: inactive connections are pruned away during childhood and adolescence. However, the molecular mechanism underlying this pruning process has remained one of the biggest mysteries in neurobiology. Now, Dr. Beth Stevens and Dr. Ben Barres of the Stanford University School of Medicine and their colleagues report that a protein used by the immune system to destroy bacteria is also needed by the young brain to target and destroy unwanted synapses.

"From the fetal period through early adulthood, the developing brain is constantly fine-tuning its synaptic connections. These results provide new insight into this vital process," said Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director. "Eventually, research like this, into the fundamental mechanisms of brain development, will help us understand why a child's brain is so vulnerable to environmental factors, including addictive drugs."

"The immune system's involvement in sculpting synapses was totally unexpected," added Dr. Barres. The immune protein C1q is among the body's first responders to injury or infection, attaching to dead cells or bacteria and triggering their destruction. Surprisingly, the researchers also found C1q attached to immature synapses in the brains and retinas of young mice. Unlike normal mice, mice missing C1q were unable to eliminate extra synapses as they aged, producing disorganized, abnormal connections in their visual systems.

In collaboration with Dr. Simon John of The Jackson Laboratory, the researchers asked whether diseases like glaucoma could trick C1q into targeting synapses in the adult. They found that although C1q is normally turned off in the nervous systems of mature mice, it reappears during the early stages of glaucoma, when retinal synapses begin to deteriorate. This discovery offers a tantalizing clue to how synapses might be lost in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and ALS.

"It looks like as soon as something goes wrong, C1q is reactivated," said Dr. Barres. "In the mouse model of human glaucoma, C1q is the earliest sign of disease, appearing well before visible damage to synapses and neurons. We hope that if we block C1q and the immune cascade it triggers, we can block the disease before neurons start to die."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at http://www.drugabuse.gov .

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) - The Nation's Medical Research Agency - includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov


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