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 immunedisease 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 ...
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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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UC Irvine scientists find new way to sort stem cells

Method could speed the production of future stem cell therapies

Irvine, Calif., Dec. 20, 2007 � UC Irvine scientists have found a new way to sort stem cells that should be quicker, easier and more cost-effective than current methods. The technique could in the future expedite therapies for people with conditions ranging from brain and spinal cord damage to Alzheimer�s and Parkinson�s diseases.

The method uses electrodes on a tiny, inch-long glass slide to sort cells by their electric charges and has been used in cancer research. The stem cell field suffers from a lack of tools for identifying and sorting cells. This important discovery could add a new tool to current sorting methods, which generally require expensive, bulky equipment.

�For therapeutic purposes, we want stem cells to turn into specific cell types once they have been transplanted. The trick to doing this is identifying beforehand which cells will become the desired cell type, such as a neuron,� said Lisa Flanagan, lead author of the study and a stem cell biologist at UCI. �We have discovered a new, potentially better way to do this by focusing on the electric properties of the cells.�

This study appears online Dec. 20 in the journal Stem Cells.

The technique used by the scientists, called dielectrophoresis, is based on the premise that different types of cells have different electric properties. Stem cells that are destined to become neurons, for example, have a different electric charge than stem cells that will become astrocytes, another type of brain cell. The scientists discovered that the cells react differently when electric fields are applied. At one frequency, a neuron will be attracted to an electrode but an astrocyte will not, and at a different frequency, an astrocyte will be attracted but a neuron will not.

Identifying and sorting stem cells is important when creating stem cell-based therapies. Without a purification process, stem cell transplantations can cause tumors or be rejected by the body�s immune system.

In this study, the scientists wanted to identify and collect stem cells that were destined to become neurons, which are cells in the brain and spinal cord that process and transmit information. Neurons that die as a result of injury or disease do not regenerate, which is why people with neuronal loss suffer problems such as paralysis and memory loss. Scientists believe that stem cell transplantations might be able to restore part of the lost function.

With the goal of identifying future neurons, UCI engineers built a tiny device using a glass slide to perform the dielectrophoresis. First, scientists place unsorted mouse stem cells on one side of the device. The cells then float in sugar water through a tiny channel past electrodes set to a particular frequency. At a certain frequency, stem cells destined to become neurons will stick to the electrodes while other cells pass by. The cells that stick then can be removed and grouped together, potentially for use in a therapy.

Currently, stem cells most often are separated using a machine called a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS). FACS machines, which use lasers to detect the light scattering and fluorescent characteristics of the cells, can weigh hundreds of pounds and cost $500,000 or more. The UCI-designed dielectrophoresis device is just a fraction of the size and cost. The two devices could be used to complement each other to create ultra pure stem cell populations.

�Once the mold is created, these sorts of devices can cost just pennies to make,� said Ed Monuki, senior author and UCI developmental biologist. �You could have many for every member of your lab and it wouldn�t be prohibitively expensive.�

A strong collaborative partnership between UCI biologists and engineers made this discovery possible. With input from biologists, engineers built the device in UCI�s Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility. �This represents truly an interdisciplinary effort that expands the horizon in both biology and engineering fields,� said Abraham Lee, a study co-author affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Engineering in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI.


The biologists are affiliated with the UCI Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, and the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. A hub for stem cell research in Southern California, UCI is raising money for a new building that will house its stem cell researchers, the core laboratory, training facilities and research space. UCI is applying to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for a facilities grant to build the structure.

Jente Lu, Lisen Wang, Steve Marchenko and Noo Li Jeon of UCI also worked on this study, which was supported by the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund of California.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,800 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

Television: UCI has a broadcast studio available for live or taped interviews. For more information, visit www.today.uci.edu/broadcast.

News Radio: UCI maintains on campus an ISDN line for conducting interviews with its faculty and experts. The use of this line is available free-of-charge to radio news programs/stations who wish to interview UCI faculty and experts. Use of the ISDN line is subject to availability and approval by the university.

UCI maintains an online directory of faculty available as experts to the media. To access, visit www.today.uci.edu/experts.

For UCI breaking news, visit www.zotwire.uci.edu.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Photo available at http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1712



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