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Archive → July, 2010

Liveblogging Open Science Summit-Open Source Drug Discovery

12:46:59 PM: Hi from Berkeley, California- I’m at the Open Science Summit http://bit.ly/b4NRq1. Tweets on open innovation and drug discovery to follow!

12:51:12 PM: Aiden Hollis of Yale’s Health Impact Fund is first http://bit.ly/Msd2N.

12:53:00 PM: Fund aims to reward pharma co’s based on drugs’ health impact, if companies agree to sell at cost. Financing would come from government.

12:58:32 PM: Health Impact Fund is planning a pilot project- but companies, countries, and drugs to be involved weren’t specified. #oss2010

12:59:54 PM: RT @uaem: Jamie Love, from here: http://bit.ly/cKAEcn talking re: prizes to de-link cost of R&D from the cost of the final product #oss2010

1:05:11 PM: Love is again talking about rewarding a drug’s ‘health impact’. This is nebulous to me. How do you measure this impact a priori? #oss2010

1:15:04 PM: RT @OrthoNormalRuss: @carmendrahl when someone makes such vague assertions, they call them “details to be hashed out later” by some agency

1:16:56 PM: Love’s talk was rich in econ-speak but vague on details- more may be found here: http://bit.ly/9UGbPL in a comment sent to WHO #oss2010

1:27:35 PM: Columbia U GS @OrthoNormalRuss is sad this session didn’t really deliver novel alternatives for R&D funding- same old gov’t $$ arguments.

1:39:15 PM: If you’d like to follow the Summit live you can at http://bit.ly/d2t4JC #oss2010 (Thx to Lisa Green, Creative Commons @boudicca for link)

1:48:19 PM: Next session is called ‘Cure Entrepreneurs’: first speaker is Scott Johnson, prez of Myelin Repair Foundation. http://bit.ly/7VK9K

1:52:03 PM: RT @mrgunn: Patient activism session up now. These folks tend to be passionate, so tune in now. #oss2010

1:54:46 PM: Johnson is describing the gap that exists between basic academic research, and research in pharma that leads to medications.

1:58:33 PM: Johnson sees nonprofits like Myelin Found. as a shepherd-herd molecules through R&D through the approval process.

2:04:34 PM: Myelin Foundation currently funding ~45 scientists. Universities own any patents, foundation has exclusive development rights.

2:06:22 PM: Johnson says it’s hard to get federal funding for developing tools and models for myelin repair research. Really? #oss2010

2:08:54 PM: Johnson-1st patent from these efforts awarded in 2008. A partnership with a pharma company (unnamed) has also been initiated.

2:11:40 PM: Myelin repair drugs would treat multiple sclerosis: read @lisamjarvis #CENews story on race to new MS drugs http://bit.ly/9Iaz7N #oss2010

2:14:18 PM: Next: Craig Benson, founder of foundation to accelerate treatments for Batten Disease, rare neurodegenerative disease http://bit.ly/9eM05S

2:19:38 PM: Among Beyond Batten’s goals: developing accessible screens to test for carriers of orphan diseases like Batten

2:21:09 PM: Benson has a daughter with Batten Disease. Johnson has multiple sclerosis.

2:28:01 PM: Benson-Foundation dev’d a universal carrier screening test for 450 orphan diseases for under $500. Product launch planned for 2011 #oss2010

2:34:12 PM: More details on Benson and Beyond Batten in a Mar.2010 Bio-IT World article: http://bit.ly/9i1eSj #oss2010

2:37:50 PM: Now Beth Anne Baber, cancer bio researcher, mom of pediatric cancer patient, cofounder of ped. cancer foundation http://bit.ly/4WY0MH

2:41:36 PM: Conor Institute Model: ID industry partner(s), foundation provides human capital in onsite labs. Multiple partners in different expertises

2:43:28 PM: Conor inst’s Partners so far: Prognosys BioSc http://bit.ly/cvmqq9, AltheaDx http://bit.ly/9AjmVs, CollabRx http://collabrx.com/

3:13:46 PM: We’re breaking for lunch now- will start up again in about 1/2 hour.

4:04:22 PM: Back from lunch. There was some discussion there about how open the morning sessions truly were, if connected to a patent model.

4:13:21 PM: schedule change: Instead of J. Izant of Sage Bionetworks, Nick Shockey @R2RC, Right to Research Coalition speaking on open access journals.

4:19:02 PM: Joerg Kurt Wegner (@joergkurtwegner), a scientist at Tibotec, asked me “What was the conclusion, if any, of the linkage to a patent system?”

4:20:32 PM: I told him I don’t think a consensus was reached- the companies seem to want patents to ensure ability to commercialize.

4:21:36 PM: More than a few of the speakers at the conference yesterday were arguing the opposite. Surprised this hasn’t come up more in Q&A’s.

4:29:58 PM: Jonathan Izant of Sage Bionetworks @sagebio http://bit.ly/9C6CqS now speaking.

4:31:43 PM: Sage is a nonprofit that wants to build an open-source spot where scientists can share genomic data to better understand disease biology.

4:33:17 PM: Here’s some coverage of Sage at WSJ http://bit.ly/9rXoOC and Xconomy http://bit.ly/PUHf4 http://bit.ly/c4gYW3 #oss2010

4:43:32 PM: Izant’s talking about challenges- developing data standards and accessible data formats, obstacles to sharing data btw academic labs

4:46:43 PM: Barry Bunin, CEO of Collaborative Drug Discovery and PhD in chemistry from UC Berkeley, is next. http://bit.ly/au1bqp

4:49:08 PM: Bunin-CDD wants to offer a few paths- let companies be open when they want to be open-and share data in a closed fashion at other times

4:53:13 PM: Bunin opens w/case study- collaborative effort that revealed known, approved drugs that reverse resistance to malaria drug chloroquine

4:55:33 PM: Bunin- CDD started largely academic but now is ~50-50 academe-industry: list of who benefits here: http://bit.ly/acFOv0 #oss2010

5:02:12 PM: More players in pharma’s neglected-disease data sharing: http://bit.ly/9tmfnb EuropeanBioinformatics Institute, Nat’l Lib Med, MMV #oss2010

5:09:02 PM: Now Andrew Hessel, founder of Pink Army, on bringing the open source development model to breast cancer R&D http://pinkarmy.org/

5:18:07 PM: Hessel’s contrasting combating bacteria-with great evolutionary distance: vs combating cancer:small evo distance #oss2010

5:21:11 PM: Hessel- we need more specific approaches. I say-what about all the cool stuff going on with sugar metabolism? http://bit.ly/bBHm1P #oss2010

5:40:45 PM: Q&A w/Bunin, Izant, and Hessel has begun: audience member says citing, giving credit w/in open drug development is key

5:49:15 PM: Hessel is getting questions about Pink army’s goal- 1 drug to 1 patient.

5:52:12 PM: Asked if the regulatory environment is changing to allow such a thing to take place. Short answer seems to be not yet.

5:57:44 PM: That concludes the portion of the program on open science and drug discovery. I’ll still be tweeting but I’ll be signing off liveblog now.

This Month in Chemical History

Before July bids us adieu, I thought it might be fun to list some of the notable events this month in chemical history (after the jump). This list is by no means comprehensive. For more historical tidbits, visit Dr. Leopold May’s Chemistry Calendar and ACS’s This Week in Chemical History (there are lots of other sites, too, that I’ll mention in a posting next month.)

Continue reading →

Travel, And ACS Meeting Blog Panel

A commenter on Derek Lowe’s post about the Boston ACS Meeting pharma/chem blog panel wanted to know how to sign up if one is already registered for the ACS meeting. Forgive the cross-post from Derek’s comment section:

Use this link: https://www.xpressreg.net/register/acsf080/xpresstoolkit/login.asp

and login with your email address and the badge number you got when you first registered.

You can ask questions of the panelists even if you’re not in Boston! I’ve set up a survey where you can suggest questions- I’ll try to ask any particularly good ones myself.
Click here to take the survey.

Looking forward to meeting folks in Boston!

And last but not least, I’m in Berkeley, CA today gearing up for the Open Science Summit. If any sessions grab my attention, I’ll post about them.

Flow Batteries: Coming to a wind farm near you?

A year ago while I was refreshing my knowledge of lithium-ion batteries, I started to hear chatter about other, newer types of batteries that were attracting attention and funding. One was a rather yoga-sounding technology: flow batteries.

I was reminded about flow batteries when I read that the last set of Recovery Act funding from DOE’s ARPA-E program would go to energy storage technologies. Three of the projects will be working on flow batteries, one of which will be led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

But what is a flow battery? Basically, it’s a battery where the voltage differential is stored outside the cell in two separate tanks of electrolytes. Pumps circulate the two fluids into a cell chamber where they come together separated by a membrane that prevents them from mixing, but does allow select ions to pass through. Electrodes in the cell convert the chemical energy to electric current.

Continue reading →

‘What is needed is to equip people to think’

A letter in this week’s issue of C&EN commented on my story about the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety survey of academic safety culture. From University of Manitoba chemistry professor Philip G. Hultin:

Courtesy of Philip Hultin

“Assessing Safety” presents the results of a survey of academic chemistry departments on safety training and evaluation and concludes that the results are somewhat confusing, albeit generally positive (C&EN, June 21, page 33). I quite agree that the results are confusing, but mainly because the term “safety training” is undefined.

In my experience, institutional safety training sessions for students and faculty provide little useful safety-related information. They concentrate on matters of legislation and reporting that relate more to the safety of the institution from legal challenge than to the safety of workers in laboratories. The one thing they never cover is specific techniques and practices needed to work safely with reagents and solvents in a research laboratory. The bottom line in lab safety is knowing what the hazards might be and how to avoid them, not the legally mandated format for a workplace label on a solvent bottle.

Academic departments will have a culture of safety if research faculty teach students the correct way to think and work in the laboratory. Training sessions of the kind that I have seen at every institution I have been associated with only convey a culture of “cover your a–.” Research faculty have to take ownership of safety training. Laboratory safety is far too important to leave to the lawyers and bureaucrats.

I used the letter as an excuse to call Hultin to learn more about his approach to lab safety and how he trains his students.
Continue reading →

Thoughts On An Iranian Explosion

According to the Iranian News Agency, there was an explosion at a petrochemical plant in Kharg that killed four workers on Saturday. The accident, according to the report, was set off by high pressure in a central boiler. A Reuters report, citing a local governor, agreed on basic details but fingered a gas leak for the blast.

Iran’s National Petrochemical Co. has ambitious plans to develop the sector involving the construction of dozens of interconnected world-scale petrochemical plants. If that wasn’t enough, NPC buys designs from foreign engineering firms, but undertakes the construction all by itself. Partly this is due to sanctions against Iran; partly it is because one of the objectives of its development program is to create domestic capabilities for sophisticated engineering.

The complexity of the development project plus the go-it-alone approach has led to countless delays and troubles for the Iranian petrochemical sector. This is a big reason why we are still waiting for a supply driven downturn in the petrochemical industry that was supposed to occur several years ago.

When I first heard about the disaster, I figured that it might be related to Iran’s struggles in petrochemicals. After all, it is common for chemical plant explosions to occur when they are being taken offline for maintenance. The change of state of startup and idling are dangerous periods for plant operators. Similarly, most airline accidents happen when aircraft are taking off or landing. It seemed plausible to me that the accident occurred while some new plant was starting up.

That reasonable hypothesis, however, doesn’t seem supported by the actual evidence.

Figuring out what is going on in the Iranian petrochemical sector always involves a little detective work. Years ago, NPC had plans to build an ethylene cracker and an ethylene glycol plant in Kharg. However, NPC decided, because of feedstock availability, to build it in Assaluyeh instead. Coincidentally, that plant seems to have officially started up yesterday.

So, there is no plant that I know of that is starting up about now in Kharg. So what could the reports be referring to? There is a methanol plant that started up in Kharg years ago. Also, the mainstream media tends to throw around the word “petrochemical” broadly. The term could be referring any number of natural gas and petroleum processing plants on Kharg Island.

Profile: Technology Transfer

Okay. So Brian Kraft, technology licensing associate at Washington State University gave me a very detailed explanation of what exactly technology transfer is, but I think I can sum it up pretty succinctly.

Technology transfer: legally transferring the rights from things/products discovered in a university lab to an outside, for-profit company.

Technology transfer: NOT kids running off with cell phones. Image by flickr user unifiedphoto.

So, as I’m sure you can imagine, universities hire people to act as liaisons, or agents, between the researcher and the company wanting to sell and/or develop their invention. Kraft is one of these people. (I wonder if he introduces himself to people as Agent Kraft?)

Besides keeping the world safe for the matrix, Kraft has a pretty diverse job, he said. His goal is to find markets for university inventions. He also serves as an intellectual property expert and contracting expert for the university, which involves talking to graduate students and community members or dealing with faculty ownership disputes or research contract negotiations.

Kraft’s day to day life can be really variable, he said. For example:

“This morning I was reading about treated tree bark and its potential use as a peat moss substitute for growing plants in order to settle an intellectual property ownership dispute between a faculty member and a local small business. I was interrupted from this by a call from one of our attorneys, informing me that a patent had just been allowed on a hydrogen storage technology and that we needed to draft an additional claim set for the commercially relevant implementation. I knocked that out then pivoted to begin reading about the emerging market for scheduling software that builds crew rosters based on fatigue models for a meeting tomorrow morning focused on the financial terms of a license agreement for a patent in the area that WSU has filed. I then received an email from a faculty member in civil engineering who has developed a method to enhance the post demolition CO2 uptake of concrete…now I get to read about cap and trade and how that would affect the concrete industry. (Notice how I never got back to the tree bark.)”

Whew. He said if he really needs to focus on one thing, he has to close his email and unplug the phone.

Kraft knew he wanted to do something besides academia near the end of his PhD work at Indiana University. (From the same group that I work in, actually. I think I sit at his old desk.) He took a post-doc position at Los Alamos just to try out the national lab thing, but didn’t really get into that either. He picked up a copy of Alternative Careers in Science (sound familiar?), and found out technology transfer as a career.

Agent Kraft. Courtesy photo.

When Kraft’s wife Aurora Clark (also a chemist and also from the same research group at IU) got hired at Washington State as a professor, they happened to be re-vamping their technology transfer the department and were hiring. So Kraft got a job. And he’s quite happy with the way things have worked out.

“It was the right move for me,” he said. “I still consider my path as evolving, but I do not regret leaving the lab.”

For others looking to get into the technology transfer business, Kraft suggests trying an internship in your university’s technology transfer office.

“Another direction is to ask if your adviser is working on any patents or commercially valuable projects and ask to serve as their liaison to the technology transfer office. I work with a lot of graduate students,” he said.

But he also warns that the job is not for everyone.

“This job has a pretty high turnover rate. The turnover rate in part, reflects the difficulty of the job,” Kraft said. “You have to be a good communicator, have a thick skin and a willingness to navigate these disparate motivators to find common ground.”

And even though there is high turnover, there aren’t that many jobs available.

“Technology transfer offices are chronically under-resourced. It’s my view that it is a function that does not fit particularly well within the traditional university and as a result there is a limited investment,” he said.

Still he said, there are good parts to the job.

“The upside is that the work is varied, both in topic and action. You’re close to the research and you get to directly participate in the emergence of new technology,” Kraft said. “It’s pretty satisfying when you get to see products launched and companies funded.”

Strong Panel Backing For AstraZeneca Blood Thinner Brilinta

The blood-thinning drug club is one step closer to getting a new member. Today, an FDA advisory panel gave a thumbs-up recommendation to Brilinta (ticagrelor), an experimental blood thinner from AstraZeneca. The vote was 7-1 in favor of approval, an enthusiastic endorsement that increases the chances that FDA will decide to approve the drug. The FDA is supposed to make its call on Brilinta by Sept. 16.

Brilinta is in the same drug class as Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood thinner that’s the second best-selling drug in the world, and a drug that is going off-patent next year. Also in this class of drugs: Effient (prasugrel).

Brilinta’s got the same molecular target as Plavix and Effient- P2Y12, a G-protein-coupled receptor on platelets that responds to the nucleotide adenosine diphosphate. But unlike the other two drugs, Brilinta targets P2Y12 reversibly. That reversibility could come in very handy in the clinic, as is implied in the opening sentences of this paper describing the clinical trial PLATO, which compared Plavix and Brilinta.

Variation in and irreversibility of platelet inhibition with clopidogrel has led to controversy about its optimum dose and timing of administration in patients with acute coronary syndromes. We compared ticagrelor, a more potent reversible P2Y12 inhibitor with clopidogrel in such patients.

And it seems that the vote at the FDA panel is a vote of confidence for that mechanism. Continue reading →