Designed a better industrial platform for making protein drugs.
The sugar coatings that often decorate proteins are more than ornamental frosting--the particular sugars and their mode of attachment ensure that proteins fold properly and are stable. Building on research first conducted at Dartmouth College, GlycoFi is producing sugar-coated human proteins in yeast. This accomplishment could provide much higher yields than the current standard method of manufacturing proteins in Chinese hamster ovary cells, which takes up to three weeks to produce relatively small amounts. Yeast could do it in three days. Because yeast does not ordinarily have chemical pathways to put the right sugars on proteins, GlycoFi is engineering assembly lines of enzymes from a variety of species. Joint studies were announced with biotechnology leaders Biogen in November 2003 and Eli Lilly in April 2004. The payoff may be better yields, lower production costs and longer-lasting, more potent drugs.
Intelligent Medical Devices
Out of tragedy came a commitment to make devices that improve health care.
In her third year at Harvard Medical School, Alice Jacobs lost her first patient to a hospital-acquired infection. In the face of what she believed was an unnecessary death, Jacobs co-founded Intelligent Medical Devices months afterward to replace hospital technologies that she felt were slow and often inadequate. One machine in development images the blood vessels under the tongue to noninvasively gauge hemoglobin levels within seconds, thereby serving as a possible indicator of acute blood loss. Another device scans for respiratory distress by analyzing patient saliva, phlegm or blood and by testing for sources of illness so that the best treatment can be recommended in a matter of hours. The respiratory tester, which can perform many exams more quickly and cheaply than all the individual tests combined, was awarded a small business grant in July 2003 to help begin commercialization.
Entered a clinical trial for a potentially better treatment against hepatitis C.
Antiviral treatments exist for hepatitis C, a disease that affects 185 million people worldwide. They are not as effective as they could be, however, because they do not target specific proteins used by the virus to do its dirty work. Several companies have now devised a more effective weapon against hepatitis C, protease inhibitors. The company that appears to have taken a drug candidate the furthest is Vertex Pharmaceuticals. It entered a clinical trial in June with an oral drug that blocks a protease, a protein essential for the virus to reproduce. In a laboratory test, the compound reduced the amount of the virus's RNA by 10,000-fold. Current broad-spectrum antivirals get a response only from 40 to 50 percent of the patients for the most difficult strain of the virus to treat. Hepatitis C induces inflammation of the liver, which can lead to liver failure and other ailments.
Institute for OneWorld Health
First nonprofit U.S. drug firm is developing affordable new medicines for the developing world.
Starting in mid-2003 and through this year, the Institute for OneWorld Health carried out clinical trials in India to treat visceral leishmaniasis with the antibiotic paromomycin. Visceral leishmaniasis, a deadly illness transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly, kills 200,000 people every year. An estimated 1.5 million people have the infection, and some 500,000 new cases arise annually, primarily in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan and Brazil. On another of its many fronts, the company received a $1.4-million grant in July from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support development of vaccines for the prevention of the scourge of malaria.
Began production of nonvolatile memory chips that use carbon nanotubes.
The start-up Nantero has joined forces with LSI Logic Corporation to produce memory chips based on a design invented by Nantero's chief scientific officer, Thomas Rueckes. The chips, dubbed NRAMs for nanotube-nonvolatile random-access memories, retain their data when the power is turned off, like SRAMs and flash memories. The NRAM chips contain groups of carbon nanotubes suspended like bridges 13 nanometers above an electrode. To store a "1" bit, the tubes and the electrode are charged oppositely, causing the nanotubes to bend down and form a junction with the electrode. Van der Waals forces keep the junction in place until like charges are applied to tube and electrode, forcing them apart to the "0" configuration. The devices could be used in "instant-on" computers, as well as cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players and so on. The NRAMs are touted as cheaper and more compact than SRAMs and faster and less power hungry than flash memories.