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Infographic – Tracking Global Monkeypox Spread

Chart: Monkeypox status

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

6 Aug. 2022. As monkeypox cases spread worldwide, national and international public health authorities are beginning to respond with emergency declarations. In addition, the data science initiative global.health is tracking monkeypox cases and mortality in real time, with the web site Our World in Data compiling the numbers, displayed in chart form this week by the business research company Statista.

The latest monkeypox outbreak first drew notice in May 2022, when cases began appearing in the U.K. and Europe, from west and central Africa where the disease is endemic. The most visible symptoms of the disease are a pimple-like rash and lesions that spread the disease through close physical contact such as sex, as well as fatigue, chills, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. World Health Organization declared monkeypox an emergency of international concern on 23 July, and the U.S. followed with its emergency declaration on Thursday.

The data and chart show as of end of July, the highest concentrations of monkeypox cases per 1 million residents are in North America and Europe. The data also show the extent of disease spread to Russia, Australia, China, and much of Asia and South America. But as also noted by Statista, few confirmed deaths reported so far from monkeypox outside Africa, with only one each in Brazil and India.

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Univ. Labs Ink Licensing Deals for Covid-19 Tests

Home testing station

Home diagnostic device (3EO Health Inc.)

5 Aug. 2022. Two companies agreed to license technologies from academic labs in the U.S. and U.K. for developing faster and more sensitive at-home tests for Covid-19 infections. The deals were announced yesterday between 3EO Health Inc. in Beverly, Massachusetts with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and Innova Medical Group Inc. in Pasadena, California with University of Birmingham in the U.K.

3EO Health is a start-up enterprise, founded last year to develop diagnostic testing for home use with a technology the company says returns rapid results with molecular accuracy. The company’s scientific founder, Thomas Schaus, is a former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Harvard system biology professor Peng Yin and staff scientist at the Wyss Institute. In 2017, Schaus, Yin, and colleagues demonstrated their technology for detecting and recording bimolecular interactions in DNA, called auto-cycling proximity recording. Their technology makes possible highly precise DNA readings.

3EO Health says its home lab is a small, portable device for medical diagnostics, beginning with tests for SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The device, says the company, uses one-time reagents to test for the presence of specific DNA, without sending the sample to a remote lab for analysis. And, says 3EO Health, the device returns results quickly and at a cost similar to current home antigen tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 in nasal swabs.

“In order to optimize the value of testing, tests should be simple to use, affordable, rapid, and accurate,” says Yin in a Wyss Institute statement. Yin adds, “We have developed a simple and rapid test platform that promises to deliver PCR-level accuracy at antigen level cost.” Harvard’s technology transfer office granted 3EO Health an exclusive license to develop and commercialize the technology. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Reverse-transcription free, exponential amplification reaction

Biotechnology researchers at University of Birmingham designed a technology for detecting SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA that a demonstration shows returns fast results at molecular accuracy by removing a separate step for reverse transcription. Innova Medical Group licensed global commercialization rights to Birmingham’s technology called reverse-transcription free, exponential amplification reaction or RTF-Expar.

RTF-Expar is a product of Birmingham’s labs led by biotechnology professor Tim Dafforn, with chemistry professor James Tucker, and oncologist-geneticist Andrew Beggs. The team developed RTF-Expar to meet the need for rapid, yet accurate tests in homes, but also at transportation hubs and entertainment venues where remote lab processing of samples is not feasible.

The researchers explain and demonstrate RTF-Expar in a paper published last year. A key part of the technique is creation of a synthetic double-stranded RNA/DNA molecule that produces a short DNA strand. That DNA strand then triggers an exponential amplification reaction without the reverse-transcription step now needed for polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, considered the gold standard for molecular testing. In the paper, Dafforn and colleagues show RTF-Expar returns results in about 10 minutes, faster than RT-PCR and reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or RT-LAMP tests, with comparable sensitivity.

In their agreement, Innova Medical Group gains commercialization rights to RTF-Expar, which the company expects to roll out worldwide by next year. “We’ve been searching globally for advanced diagnostics technologies to manage the current pandemic and mitigate future health care challenges,” says Innova CEO Robert Kasprzak in a company statement released through Cision, “and we were impressed by the RTF testing method and the team behind it deserves enormous credit for their innovation.”

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Immune Disease Biotech Acquired in $405M Deal

Human T-cell

Scanning electron micrograph of a healthy human T-cell (NIH.gov)

4 Aug. 2022. A biotechnology developer of treatments for autoimmune disorders with checkpoint receptor proteins is acquired by drug maker Gilead Sciences. The deal is expected to bring $405 million to shareholders in the privately-held MiroBio Ltd., a three year-old enterprise spun-off from labs at University of Oxford, in the U.K.

MiroBio discovers and develops therapies for autoimmune diseases that trick the immune system into attacking healthy cells and tissue as invading pathogens. The company’s technology seeks to restore homeostasis or balance in the immune system, to provide durable relief to patients, by activating immune checkpoint receptors. Many newer cancer therapies target similar checkpoint proteins, seeking to limit inhibitors blocking immune system responses to tumor cell growth. In this case, says MiroBio, the treatments aim to stimulate immune receptors that reverse signals stopping normal immune responses.

The company says it created a map of checkpoint receptor proteins in the body that limit normal immune system responses. With this checkpoint atlas, as it’s called, MiroBio compiles details of signaling between immune system cells through a gap known as a synapse. The company says it designs antibody proteins that generate artificial signals through the synapse and immune receptors. Signals from these antibodies, says MiroBio, act to block harmful inhibitory enzymes, and encourage connections with natural ligands or bonding molecules to provide more control over signaling pathways.

Raised $131 million in three years

MiroBio’s pipeline has two immunotherapies clearing preclinical development, one candidate code-named MB272 as an agonist of B and T lymphocyte attenuator or BTLA receptors associated with a range of inflammatory diseases, and another code-named MB151 addressing PD-1 receptors, a common cancer immunotherapy target. The company says MB272 recently began testing in an early-stage clinical trial.

MiroBio, was formed in Oct. 2019 in Oxford, based on research by its scientific founders immunologists Simon Davis and Richard Cornall, who continue as advisors to the company. Since its founding, MiroBio raised $131 million in venture funds, the latest round gaining £80 million ($US 97 million) in June 2022.

Gilead Sciences in Foster City, California is a developer of treatments for infectious diseases, and a leading provider of HIV drugs. The company also developing drugs for cancer and inflammatory diseases, including the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Gilead is acquiring all MiroBio shares for $405 million in cash.

“The team at MiroBio has spearheaded foundational research for agonist antibodies following a rigorous scientific approach,” says Flavius Martin, executive vice-president for research at Gilead Sciences in a statement. “We believe that MiroBio’s unique platform technology has the potential to produce best-in-class agonist antibodies targeting immune inhibitory receptors.”

Eliot Charles, MiroBio’s board chairman adds, “MiroBio has a deep understanding of checkpoint receptor signaling and a proprietary approach to select and generate superior agonist antibodies. Combining this with Gilead’s drug development and therapeutic area expertise will allow us to fully explore the potential of checkpoint agonist antibodies for patients with autoimmune disease.”

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Peptide Vaccine Shown to Reduce Harmful Cholesterol

Heart, circulation system

(Bryan Brandenburg, Wikimedia Commons)

3 Aug. 2022. Tests with lab monkeys show a vaccine with a synthetic peptide lowers so-called bad cholesterol in blood for longer periods than a comparable monoclonal antibody. Biotechnology company Vaxxinity Inc., a developer of therapeutic vaccines based in Dallas, reported the findings on its web site, which are not yet peer-reviewed.

Vaxxinity creates treatments for chronic diseases that invoke an immune response, much like vaccines. While many immunotherapies are in development, the company says its approach using synthetic peptides is more economical and at least comparable in effectiveness to monoclonal antibodies, synthetic highly-targeted proteins also designed to invoke an immune response. Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which when linked together into longer chains, become proteins.

The company’s technology designs synthetic peptides to first activate CD4+ or helper T-cells in the immune system that respond to peptides. Those T-cells, says Vaxxinity, alert and provide an epitope, or binding-site target, for B-cells in the immune system to produce antibody proteins. In addition, says the company, the peptide links chemically to the binding-site target, providing a clear pattern for B-cells to produce antibodies. When needed says Vaxxinity, such as for infectious diseases, its synthetic peptides also provide an additional target to generate a memory T-cell response.

Addresses proteins regulating cholesterol levels in blood

Vaxxinity applies its technology to vaccines for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as SARS-Cov-2, migraine, and hypercholesterolemia, or excessive levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. At high levels in the blood, low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol, greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. In some cases, hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that appears in childhood and becomes life-threatening in teenagers.

The company is developing an experimental vaccine therapy for hypercholesterolemia, code-named VXX-401, currently in preclinical development. The vaccine, says Vaxxinity, addresses proteins expressed by the proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 or PCSK9 gene that regulate cholesterol levels in the blood. In July, Science & Enterprise reported on the start of a clinical trial testing a precise form of Crispr gene editing that also targets the PCSK9 gene as a one-time therapy for inherited hypercholesterolemia.

Vaxxinity reports that tests with lab monkeys show a six-week regimen of VXX-401 reduces LDL cholesterol levels 40 to 50 percent compared to a placebo. Also, says Vaxxinity, LDL cholesterol reductions for VXX-401 are similar to a single dose of a monoclonal antibody designed for LDL cholesterol. Moreover, monkeys given the single monoclonal antibody dose return to their baseline levels of LDL cholesterol within two to three weeks, while animals given VXX-401 continue their lower levels of LDL cholesterol for four months after their last dose. Levels of high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, are not affected in VXX-401 recipients. And, says the company, the treatments are well tolerated by the animals.

“Targeting PCSK9 is a proven and effective approach for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke,” says Ulo Palm, Vaxxinity’s chief medical officer in a company statement, “but today’s approved therapies have access and administration challenges that limit their use to a small subset of the full population who could benefit.” Company CEO Mei Mei Hu adds, “Achieving proof-of-concept in a well-validated target such as PCSK9 is another meaningful milestone for Vaxxinity and brings us one step closer to our vision of vaccinating the world against heart attack and stroke.”

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Patent Issued for Anti-Bacterial Viruses with Crispr Payloads

Crispr graphic

(LJNovaScotia, Pixabay)

2 Aug. 2022. A biotechnology company received a patent for its engineered viruses to deliver gene-edited treatments to combat bacterial infections in the microbiome. Snipr Biome ApS in Copenhagen, Denmark says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted patent number 11,400,110 covering parts of the company’s antimicrobial technology in medical applications.

Snipr Biome is a developer of treatments working in the microbiome, communities of naturally-occurring bacteria and other microbes in gut, skin, and elsewhere on the body. The company’s therapies use the gene-editing technique Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, to deliver edited DNA that destroy harmful bacteria in the gut, while sparing beneficial microbes, or to deliver gene therapies. Crispr itself is based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA.

One way Snipr Biome delivers its therapies is with bacteriophages, a type of virus that infects bacteria. Bacteriophages, or phages, destroy bacterial targets with lysis, a process that breaks down the outer cell membranes, killing the microbe. The company’s lead product, code-named Snipr001, uses lysis from engineered phages to remove E. coli bacteria before reaching the blood stream of patients with blood-related cancers, that can also affect bone marrow and lymph nodes. Snipr001, says Snipr Biome, works by attacking E. coli bacteria in the gut with characteristic genetic sequences before they reach the blood stream, while sparing other gut microbes. In April, Science & Enterprise reported on the start of a clinical trial of Snipr001.

A range of bacterial disease targets

The new patent covers Snipr Biome’s processes for RNA to guide Crispr-associated or Cas editing enzymes used by Crispr for engineering phages for attacking prokaryotes, single-cell targets like bacteria with lysis, such as in Snipr001. The patent is written to include Cas9, the most widely used Cas enzyme, as well as other Cas enzymes. The document also covers a range of bacterial disease targets other than E. coli, including C. difficile, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus.

The patent is granted to Snipr Biome’s co-founder  and chief intellectual property officer Jasper Clube, and assigned to the company. Christian Grøndahl, CEO and also a co-founder, says in a company statement released through Globe Newswire that the patent “recognizes the continued pioneering work by Snipr scientists as innovators of Crispr/Cas editing of prokaryotes.”

Snipr Biome says its 22 patents from USPTO and those from European authorities protect its use of Crispr to combat infectious disease microbes in humans and animal microbiomes. The company says the documents cover delivery with phage and other vehicles, as well as a range of diseases. Snipr Biome says its patents apply as well to enhance cancer immunotherapies, including therapeutic vaccines and CAR T-cells engineered with chimeric antigen receptors.

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Alzheimer’s Assn Collecting Real-World Therapy Data

Hands of older person

(Steve Buissinne, Pixabay)

1 Aug. 2022. An advocacy group for Alzheimer’s disease care and research is establishing a network for collecting long-term safety and outcomes data from patients in real-world settings. The Alzheimer’s Association announced today formation of its Alzheimer’s Network for Treatment and Diagnostics, or ALZ-NET, at its international research conference in San Diego.

ALZ-NET seeks to systematically compile data on tests and therapies from patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia over extended periods of time, to better understand what works with patients as new treatments emerge. The network’s creators say the need for these data is becoming more urgent as results from several late-stage clinical trials are expected in the next 12 months. Alzheimer’s Association, based in Chicago, is establishing ALZ-Net with American College of Radiology, Critical Path Institute, Department of Biostatistics at Brown University School of Public Health, and American Society of Neuroradiology, as well as individual experts in clinical research and imaging.

“We are entering a new phase of Alzheimer’s treatment,” says Maria Carrillo, chief scientist at Alzheimer’s Association and co-lead ALZ-NET investigator, in an association statement. “ALZ-NET is the tool that will help us translate therapies into care that provides the most benefit to people living with the disease and their caregivers, in all communities.” Carrillo adds, “It is imperative that we all work together as a clinical and research community to build this infrastructure as it creates opportunities for evidence gathering, information sharing, and education.”

Medications not always taken as prescribed

While clinical trials provide valuable data on safety and efficacy of specific treatments, say the researchers, they’re often conducted under carefully controlled conditions or with specific populations. Clinicians also need to know how treatments work with patients in their day-to-day lives, when other factors come into play. For example, in clinical trials, patients are often closely monitored, and given a test treatment or placebo, at prescribed intervals. Under real-world conditions, patients may not always take their medications at the appropriate times, or are taking other drugs that can interact with their Alzheimer’s therapies.

“ALZ-NET will gather real-world clinical practice data and outcomes, including treatment effectiveness and side effects,” notes Gil Rabinovici, professor of memory and aging at University of California in San Francisco, and co-lead investigator. “The data will be shared quickly and transparently with doctors, patients, family members, researchers, regulators, such as the FDA, and payers, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

ALZ-NET is starting with a core set of FDA-approved treatments, and will expand its surveillance as FDA approves new Alzheimer’s disease therapies. The researchers also plan to recruit participants from a wider array of populations often underrepresented in clinical trials. “ALZ-NET will include people from a variety of backgrounds and communities,” adds Rabinovici, “to achieve representativeness beyond the populations historically enrolled in clinical trials.”

In addition, the team plans to build on experience gained and contacts made in nationwide studies of the clinical utility of brain amyloid PET scans. That research gathered data from more than 1,000 dementia care providers and imaging facilities in the U.S. Rabinovici was principal investigator for these studies.

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Infographic – Fewer in US See Covid-19 Threat

Chart: Views of Covid-19 threat

(Pew Research Center)

30 July 2022. The percentage of Americans viewing Covid-19 as a major threat to public health is declining, with a majority now saying the disease is a minor or no threat at all. Pew Research Center reported these data earlier this month, from an online survey of U.S. adults conducted in May.

The Pew researchers found only about four in 10 Americans (41%) consider the coronavirus outbreak “a major threat to the U.S. population,” as worded in the survey. A somewhat larger percentage (45%) considers Covid-19 a minor threat, and 13 percent say it’s not a threat. In its previous survey in January 2022, a majority of U.S. adults (57%) characterized Covid-19 as a major health threat, and through most of 2020, roughly two-thirds of American adults — between 63 and 67 percent — rated the outbreak as a major threat.

On other questions in the survey, a majority of U.S. adults (55%) say vaccines are “extremely” or “very” effective at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, while about half, 48 to 49 percent, rate wearing masks indoors or limiting activities or interactions with other people as extremely or very effective. Somewhat fewer, 44 percent, say the wide availability of rapid Covid-19 tests are extremely or very effective at limiting Covid-19 spread. As we’ve seen in other surveys on this topic since the start of the pandemic, Democrats are more positive in rating these public health measures than Republicans.

Pew Research Center conducted the online survey from 2 to 8 May 2022, with 10,282 of 11,674 U.S. adults (88%) taking part in the American Trends Panel, a continuing project of the Center since 2014. Participants are selected to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S., and include individuals without Internet accounts, who are given a tablet and a wireless connection for their responses.

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Biotech Start-Up Demonstrates Cancer Therapy, Raises $6.4M

DNA puzzle

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

29 July 2022. A new biotechnology company demonstrated in lab mice its therapy for glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, that overcomes limitations of current treatments. The founders of Modifi Biosciences in New Haven, Connecticut published their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Science (paid subscription required), with the company raising $6.4 million in seed funds.

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is an aggressive brain cancer, making up about half of all malignant brain tumors in the U.S. The condition affects glial cells that support neurons, or signaling nerve cells in the brain. Glioblastoma is considered difficult to treat, usually with surgery or radiation to slow progression of the disease. According to National Brain Tumor Society, the average survival time for people with glioblastoma is eight months, with a five-year survival rate of about seven percent. Some 13,000 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with glioblastoma this year.

A drug approved to treat glioblastoma is temozolomide, an oral chemotherapy designed to kill cancer cells. As the Science paper points out, temozolomide contains a DNA methylation agent controlling gene expression, which at first slows tumor growth, but in as many as two-thirds of glioblastoma cases, patients develop a resistance to the drug. The researchers trace the resistance to a lack of a key repair protein known as O6-methylguanine methyl transferase or MGMT. This key repair protein is activated by a mechanism called the mismatch repair pathway, also missing in glioblastoma tumors.

A team from Yale University in New Haven developed chemical agents that seek to circumvent the DNA mutations in glioblastoma tumors responsible for resistance to temozolomide. The researchers, led by radiology professor Ranjit Bindra and chemistry professor Seth Herzon, designed their compound, code-named KL-50, to create a lesion in the tumor DNA that induces a separate mismatch repair pathway. By creating this alternative repair mechanism, KL-50 produces molecules toxic to tumor cells, but benign to healthy cells and tissue. In addition, the team designed KL-50 as an analog to temozolomide, taken as an oral drug.

Mutations that make the drug invisible

“A major problem in treating gliomas is that patients can rapidly develop resistance to the drug temozolomide, which has been the backbone of most glioma treatments for over 20 years,” says Bindra in a university statement. Herzon adds, “Resistance arises from acquired genetic mutations that essentially make the drug invisible after about a year, leading to recurrence and death in most cases.”

The researchers tested KL-50 in lab cultures and cell lines, and then in lab mice, first with brain tumor cells grafted to their limbs, and then induced with brain tumors. The results show in both tumor samples, mice receiving oral doses of KL-50 experienced shrinkage of their tumors under varying conditions of MGMT and mismatch repair pathway presence. Untreated mice, or those receiving temozolomide alone in most cases show little change in their tumors over time. Giving KL-50 to healthy mice also shows the animals tolerated the drug, except at the highest doses.

Bindra, Herzon, and co-lead author Kingson Lin founded a company first called Aztek Bio, now Modifi Biosciences, to license and further develop their technology for cancer therapies. Earlier this year, the enterprise began operating in a bioscience business center in New Haven, and yesterday announced the raising of $6.4 million in seed funds. Taking part in the financing are HighCape Capital, Connecticut Innovations, Ironwood Capital, the Brain Tumor Investment Fund, and Yale Ventures. One of the company’s founders is Kevin Rakin, a partner in HighCape Capital, a life science venture investor.

Modifi Bio, and the authors, believe KL-50 can lead to treatments for other cancers resulting from faulty DNA repairs. “Our discovery,” notes Bindra in a company statement released through Globe Newswire, “represents a major step forward in changing the treatment paradigm for this devastating disease, as well as for many other cancers with intrinsic DNA repair defects.”

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Women’s Health Companies Partner on New Contraceptive

Women silhouettes

(Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/vectors/women-silhouettes-girl-woman-4918254/)

28 July 2022. Two companies working in women’s reproductive health are developing a new non-hormonal contraceptive that works in cervical mucous membranes. The deal could bring contraceptive developer Cirqle Biomedical in Copenhagen, Denmark as much as $370 million from women’s health products company Organon in Jersey City, New Jersey if all terms of the agreement are fulfilled.

Cirqle Biomedical is a three year-old enterprise creating a local, on-demand contraceptive for women. The company says the contraceptive, called Oui, is a gel applied to cervical mucous with an active ingredient that interacts with the mucous to make it impenetrable to sperm. In addition says Cirqle Bio, the low pH or high acidic environment of the cervix further deactivates sperm. The company says its non-system approach uses no hormones and minimizes adverse effects.

Cirqle Bio’s web site offers no scientific evidence to back up its claims, and the companies’ announcement cites only “encouraging preclinical research”. Science & Enterprise asked the company for any relevant findings demonstrating how Oui works and its minimal adverse effects, and will update this story with a response from Cirqle Bio.

Organon is a maker of drugs, biologics, and medical devices with an emphasis on women’s health. The company’s current products include a contraceptive hormone ring worn in the vagina, a drug to treat and prevent osteoporosis, and a medical device to treat abnormal postpartum uterine bleeding. In addition Organon seeks collaborations to develop further women’s health products including in contraception, fertility, and pregnancy management.

“Advance our preclinical research”

The agreement gives Organon an exclusive global license to develop and commercialize Oui, with a research plan calling for Cirqle Bio to continue responsibility for preclinical studies. Under the deal, Cirqle Bio is receiving an initial payment of $10 million, and is eligible for further milestone payments and royalties on future sales valued at $360 million.

Sandra Milligan, who heads research and development at Organon, says in a company statement, “As a leader in contraception, we believe it is critically important to bring forward new options for women, especially in the space of non-hormonal contraceptives, a category preferred by many with limited available options.” Milligan notes that the company is committed to “collaborating with companies like Cirqle Biomedical to support early science and bring forward new solutions that address the unmet needs of women.”

Cirqle Biomedical’s CEO Frederik Petursson Madsen adds, “This collaboration is an important opportunity to advance our preclinical research exploring this asset’s first-in-class potential.”

Also today, National Institute of Health announced the winners in its challenge competition for new technologies in maternal health. The winning entries share a $1 million purse for medical devices that diagnose or monitor the condition of women during pregnancy and childbirth, particularly in low-resource regions. The first prize of $500,000 went to Bethany Hedt-Gauthier at Harvard Medical School for a set of mobile health tools to monitor for complications during postpartum recovery by women following a caesarian delivery. Science & Enterprise reported on the opening of the competition in December 2021.

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Biotechs Discover Antimicrobial Peptide for Food Safety

Harvesting apples

(Lumix2004, Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/apples-fruits-orchard-nature-trees-1872997/)

27 July 2022. Two biotechnology companies say they discovered a peptide molecule with antimicrobial properties for faster identification and containment of food contamination outbreaks. Aanika Biosciences in Brooklyn, New York and Berkeley Lights Inc. in Emeryville, California reported on the peptide, discovered as part of their collaboration begun in January 2022.

Aanika Biosciences is a four year-old business that creates microscopic unique identifiers with synthetic biology that act like bar codes, safely attached to individual batches of food crops and products for tracking through the supply chain. These identifiers, says Aanika Bio, are contained inside benign spores for adding to harvested crops including seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. The company says its microbial tags are colorless, odorless, and tasteless, stay attached to their original sources, and are added to products by mixing with liquids or spraying as a mist on dry goods. The identifiers also can be structured and customized with data such as point of origin, and retrieved digitally.

The partnership with Berkeley Lights seeks to expand the capabilities of Aanika Bio’s engineered spores to fighting food contamination as well as tracking batches of crops. Berkeley Lights is a biotechnology company that combines cell biology with digital analytics, providing microfluidic chip devices and software products, as well as analytics services for biological product discovery and development. The company says its combination of digital and biological processes makes it possible to accelerate discoveries, even down to detailed granular levels, such as individual cells.

In January, Berkeley Lights began work with Aanika Bio on screening for peptides with antimicrobial properties. Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which when linked together into longer chains, become proteins. In this case, Berkeley Lights began screening peptides for characteristics making them toxic to bacteria associated with food-borne illnesses. Aanika Bio says these antimicrobial peptides can be attached to their engineered spore identifiers to help protect against contamination in the food supply chain.

Eligible for royalties on products

Berkeley Lights and Aanika Bio say they identified an antimicrobial peptide, or AMP, ahead of schedule. “The identification of the new AMP,” says  Aanika Bio co-founder and CEO Vishaal Bhuyan in a Berkeley Lights statement, “now enables us to move faster than we thought was possible to unlock the opportunities to have greater economic, environmental, and human health impact as we to help improve and protect our global food system.”

Few financial details of the partnership between the companies were disclosed, but under the agreement Berkeley Lights is eligible for royalties from Aanika Bio once products with the AMP are developed and marketed.

Aanika Biosciences announced separately the start of an insurance subsidiary to cover companies growing, shipping, and processing food through global supply chains. Aanika Re, as the subsidiary is called, seeks to mitigate risks for companies linked to emerging traceability requirements in the industry, and is funded initially with $400 million from Adit Ventures in New York.

Bhuyan notes in an Aanika Bio statement released through BusinessWire that “traceability is at the heart of three main catalysts: 1) climate changes, which could lead to a significant rise in food safety issues; 2) FDA rules on traceability which are coming into effect within 24 months; and 3) ESG compliance for public companies.” ESG refers to environmental, social, and governance standards for evaluating corporate behavior.

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