Australasian Biotechnology, Vol. 10 No. 2, 2000, pp. 4-14
Code Number: au00017
The National Biotechnology Strategy is to include a $20 million program to assist the commercialisation of biotechnology research. The recent Federal Budget included total of $30.5 million over four years to implement the National Biotechnology Strategy, although announcement of the Strategy itself, which had been planned to coincide with the Budget, has been delayed until the end of May.
However, the Budget papers reveal that significant elements of the Strategy will cover:
In addition to the $20 million research commercialisation program, the package includes $4m for the coordination and implementation of the strategy; $3.3m for an ongoing examination to assist agriculture and food industries make judgements on supplying genetically modified products and adopting identity preservation; $3m to provide the public with information on biotechnology; and $0.25m for research into some of the most immediate environmental risks arising from gene technology. However, only $100,000 of the funding has been allocated for expenditure during 2000-01, with the major programs not getting under way until the 2001-2002 financial year.
The National Biotechnology Strategy is a cross-portfolio measure between the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (ISR), the Department of the Environment and Heritage, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (AFFA). ISR will administer the lions share of $26.6 million from the total package, while $3.7 million will be managed by AFFA and the Department of the Environment and Heritage will absorb $0.3m.
AFFA will set up an industry-based committee to to identify the requirements and costs of segregating gene technology products, and to provide information to industry and government on market requirements.Bio2000 PROVIDES INSIGHTS
Australian delegates to the Bio2000 biotechnology trade conference held in Boston at the end of March gained some valuable insights into the models for developing the biotechnology industry which have successfully been used in Europe and the US.
The Bio2000 expo attracted over 10,000 visitors, nearly double the number who attended the Seattle Bio99 event.
Missions from three States, involving a total of over 120 Australian delegates and 26 exhibitors, combined their participation in Bio2000 with a range of other activities aimed at building international networks and learning about building businesses to global scale.
The 40-strong Queensland delegation, led by the Premier, Peter Beattie, attended a Maryland Biocapital Connection 2000 International Forum at the Australian Embassy, organised by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the Queensland Government Office in Los Angeles and Scottish Enterprise. The aim of the forum was to encourage partnerships with organisations from Maryland and Virginia (which together make up the Biocapital region), Canada, Scotland, other European countries and Queensland.
The group also took part in a workshop in San Francisco which focused on developments for the biotechnology sector in financial markets, and the rush of IPOs since November last year, and the Premier hosted a networking meeting with San Francisco biotechnology organisations.
The 20-member Victorian mission was organised by the City of Melbourne and led by the Lord Mayor, Cr Peter Costigan. The mission comprised staff of the City of Melbourne and industry consultants and advisers, including lawyers, technology consultants and venture capitalists.
The delegation met with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, visited the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park and had a series of roundtable discussions focusing on issues such as financing, partnering, international taxation and best practice in facilitating start-up companies from academic research.
The delegates collected information on the ways in which other countries have successfully promoted their biotechnology industries, such as simplifying guidelines for incentives, removing regulatory barriers, providing much higher levels of funding and assistance, providing technology parks and incubators, removing disincentives for academics to transfer to commercial activities, and assisting with intellectual property management. This information is currently being developed into a report which will be released prior to the mid-year announcement by the Victorian Government of its Biotechnology Strategy.
The 12-member NSW mission was led by Dr Claire Baxter, Chair of the NSW Innovation Councils biotechnology working group, and included representatives of six research organisations and five companies. Additional activities of the trip included discussions with the Israeli delegation to Bio2000 and a meeting with Joe Pinetta of Biocom San Diego, the San Diego biotech industry association which toured NSW last year and with which the NSW is having discussions about future links.
Bio 2000 President Carl B. Feldbaum said, Our annual conference has become a singular event, clearly the worlds most popular gathering to explain and debate biotechnologys scientific and business progress, benefits and challenges.
Reservation of exhibitor booths at the San Diego Convention Center is under way for the June 24-28, 2001, conference. An exhibitor and sponsor prospectus is on www.bio.org in Events.
Some records set at Bio 2000 in Boston:
Austrade is moving on to the third component of a three-part initiative to promote Australian biotechnology overseas, a US Biopartnering Roadshow, scheduled for June this year.
The first component of the initiative was the Biopartnering and Investment Forum in December 1999, which brought four US experts to four Australian cities on a speaking forum to inform Australian biotechnology players of opportunities, approaches and strategic directions for entry into the US market and for globalisation in general.
The second stage was the Australian exhibit at the Bio2000 trade event.
The US Biopartnering Roadshow, the final component, is to be a mission supported by the Federal Governments Technology Diffusion Program and the Commercialisation for Emerging Technologies Program (COMET), the State Governments and the individual companies selected for participation. Participation has been determined through a competitive process by which ten biotech companies have been selected by Australian and US panels. The mission will endeavour to mentor Australian companies to achieve compatability in negotiation and presentation styles with accepted approaches in the US, introduce and support one-to-one meetings with potential US partners at two events in the US, and provide general market and industry information relevant to the ten companies. The mission seeks to facilitate the formation of strategic partnerships between the Australian companies and their prospective US partners. Strategic partnerships are expected to cover distribution, collaborative and service arrangements and agreements.BIOTECHNOLOGY LECTURESHIPS
Of the 29 Science Lectureships grants recently announced by the Federal Government, eight have been awarded to projects in the biotechnology field. The Science Lectureships program was announced in last years budget with funding of $25 million over three years ($5 million in 2000, $10 million in 2001 and $10 million in 2002) for science-related education projects run by universities or consortia of institutions, in partnership with industry. Successful biotechnology-related projects include:
The Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, has released a draft Code of Ethical Practice for Biotechnology in Queensland.
The Code will apply to all Queensland Government agencies, research centres, laboratories and public hospitals that conduct biotechnology activities and all private sector companies, academic institutions and research bodies that receive assistance from the Queensland Government to undertake biotechnology activities.
While it is designed to be taken up as a voluntary demonstration of commitment to ethical practice, the Government has indicated that funding for any biotechnology organisation that does not honour the code will be reviewed.
A public register of biotechnology organisations to which the Code applies and those which voluntarily subscribe to it will be maintained and open for public scrutiny.The website is www.premiers.qld.gov.au/bio.pdf.
The draft Code is available on the Internet at www.qld.gov.au. Comments on the draft Code may be sent by June 30 to the Biotechnology Code of Ethics Project, Department of the Premier and Cabinet at E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.BIOTECH IP SEMINARS
Biotechnology Australia is staging a series of seminars around Australia during May on intellectual property management. The seminars will be addressed by keynote speaker, Steven Bent, a US patent lawyer who has worked with Australian firms and will provide a viewpoint on the IP requirements of US markets.
Biotechnology Australia is also working with IP Australia to develop a CD-ROM on IP management in the biotech sector, including case studies of biotechnology companies. The CD-ROM is expected to be available mid-year.
For further information, contact Steven Playford on (02) 6213 7678.REGIONAL BIOTECH FORUMS
Biotechnology Australia is also conducting a series of community forums around Australia to provide information about gene technology and its potential impact on regional Australia.
The first forum, held in Naracoorte, SA early this month, was addressed by guest speakers covering issues including the science of biotechnology in agriculture, its benefits and risks, industry and grower perspectives and regulatory information. A panel discussion ranged over topics such as environmental and medical uses, labelling of GM food, and market and trade trends.
Forums in other parts of the country are currently being planned. For further information, contact Craig Cormick, Manager of Biotechnology Australias Public Awareness Campaign, on (02) 6213 6805.GENOMICS RESEARCH PROGRAM LAUNCHED
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has called for expressions of interest in its Medical Genomics Program, established as a result of a special funding allocation in the 1999 Budget.
The aim of the program is to build Australias medical genomics capability to support the development of the biotechnology base. The NHMRC is looking for projects with an annual budget of over $500,000 in three broad areas of research: large-scale sequencing projects, large-scale molecular genetic analysis projects and large-scale array projects and resources required to examine gene expression.
Normal NHMRC eligibility and peer review rules apply to the funding, but scientists from organisations that are normally ineligible for NHMRC funding may apply provided that their application is specifically for medically relevant genomic research that does not already receive funding from other sources. Members of the Australian Genomics Research Facility are not eligible to apply for the initial call for applications, but supported projects will purchase services such as DNA sequencing, microsatellite or mutation analysis, and microarray technology from the AGRF. Applications for funding closed in April.NEW CHIROTECHNOLOGY CENTRE
A new Centre for Chiral and Molecular Technologies has been established at Deakin University in Geelong. The Centre will focus on the emerging field of Chirotechnology which uses research on the left and right handedness of otherwise identical chemical structures to develop better drugs, insecticides and other products.
In molecular terms, the chemical reactions used to produce many synthetic molecules, such as drugs, results in a mixture of right and left handed forms of the same molecule.
These different chiral forms of molecules can have different, and sometimes devastating, effects, if the `right or pure chiral form is not used.
An example is thalidomide, a drug that in its pure, right-handed, form is an effective, safe tranquiliser, but the left-handed version proved to be a potent foetal-deforming agent.
Another example is the synthetic form of dopamine used to treat Parkinsons disease, where one form acts on the nerve cells to control the patients tremors whist the other chiral form is actually toxic to nerve cells.
Currently there is little control over which chiral form is made during the production process, generally resulting in the production of equal amounts of both chiral forms. As the two chiral partners have identical physical properties it is very difficult and expensive to separate them. The aim of research is to develop processes in which single pure-chiral compounds are formed in the first place.
The new Deakin facility, headed by Professor Dainis Dakternieks, aims to become a significant international centre for chirotechnology research and training, collaborating with partners in Germany, Japan, USA, UK. Individual members of the centre already have well established links with various industries, attracting substantial research funding from companies such as Glaxo Wellcome, Orica, Telstra, the Australian Mineral Industries Research Association and the Fibreglass and Rockwool Insulation Manufacturers Association.
The research activities of the centre are organised into four programs:
Current research conducted by Dr Peter Scammells is developing improved drugs based on adenosine, a compound that occurs naturally in the body and can control the supply and demand of oxygen to the heart.
Dr Scammells research has led to a potential new drug for the treatment of congestive heart failure that is currently in phase II human trials in the United States. He is also in the process of submitting a patent on compounds developed at Deakin. It is hoped these compounds will be useful in the treatment of patients with irregular heart beats and also in the protection/prevention of heart attack.STEM CELL RESEARCH BREAKTHROUGH
Australian scientists are at the forefront of research which could lead to cures for a large number of degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons disease as well as techniques for the regeneration of diseased or damaged tissues.
However, because research on human embryos is illegal in Australia, the route to development of these new treatments is dauntingly complex and could result in Australia losing control over the intellectual property.
Two Australian research groups are studying the processes by which stem cells differentiate into specialised cell types such as nerve cells, muscle cells, and so on. They are the Monash University Institute of Reproduction and Development, led by Professor Alan Trounson, and the Cell Therapy Project at the University of Adelaide, led by Professor Peter Rathjen.
Research published recently in Nature Biotechnology by the Monash group has demonstrated that stem cells derived from an early human embryo can be turned into nerve cells in the laboratory. The group is working in conjunction with the National University of Singapore and Hadassah Medical Centre where research on human embryos is legal.
Human embryonic stem (ES) cells were originally reported by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in 1998, but the Monash research is the first independent confirmation that they can be grown in culture from human embryos and the first indication that production of large numbers of specialised human body cells can be achieved in culture dishes.
The Monash group isolated ES cells from the inner mass of the blastocyst and grew them under conditions where they would differentiate. Noticing the growth of cells with projections which looked like neurons, they isolated them and grew them in another dish where they did indeed grow into neurons.
The Monash team is continuing the work with offshore collaborators to identify improved methods for growing the stem cells and for producing desired types of adult body cells from them.
The work at the University of Adelaide is building on a finding which has been sold to BresaGen Ltd covering the isolation of human factors which enable ES cells to develop into primitive ectoderm cells and from there into specialised nerve cells in the normal development of an embryo.
These factors can be used to grow pure cultures of specialised nerve-cell precursors and nerve cells from ES cells by controlling the culture conditions. This approach has advantages over the rather more haphazard technique of separating specific types of cells from a clump of ES cells.
BresaGen has filed a new provisional patent application to cover work which has successfully obtained a pure culture of a key intermediate cell type which ultimately becomes the central nervous system.
The next stage will be to show that these new cells can safely be injected into the brains of newborn rats and take part in the normal development of the brain.
BresaGen is also planning to exploit these novel cells through a genomics approach to searching for new molecules which affect the development of the nervous system, and may provide the basis for the development of new therapeutics.
Work on the growth of human tissues depends on sourcing human stem cells, and Bresagen is currently considering a number of options for collaboration with overseas groups which have access to human embryos.
Professor Trounson recently announced at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons conference in Melbourne that, in the absence of agreement from the NHMRC to provide the framework for a network of Australian stem cell research, Australian researchers were negotiating a collaboration with Singapore universities, backed by the Singapore Government and corporate finance.NSW INQUIRY INTO GM FOOD
The NSW Parliaments Standing Committee on State Development is currently conducting an enquiry into the potential costs and benefits of genetically modified food in New South Wales.
The inquiry, which was initiated by Richard Amery, Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Land and Water Conservation, is examining the impacts of genetically modified food technology on the agricultural and food processing sectors, and possible adverse consequences to trade, food safety and the environment from the introduction of genetically modified food technology. The inquiry has held two public hearings, and may hold further hearings.
For further information contact the Committee secretariat on (02) 9230 2193.TASMANIA PUTS HOLD ON GM CROPS
The Tasmanian Government is putting pressure on the Federal Government to include an opt out clause in its Gene Technology Bill, so that Tasmania could choose not to allow cultivation of genetically modified crops if they were deemed not to be in the States interests.
The Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment, David Llewellyn, said that until Tasmanias food industry council had thoroughly investigated the arguments for and against genetically modified foods, his government was not in a position to finalise its policy on the issue.
We need to have the flexibility to address these issues in much the same way as Tasmania needs the flexibility to be considered a separate quarantine zone in the salmon issue.
Mr Llewellyn has also written to the Federal Government asking that no more genetically modified crop trials be approved for Tasmania till the state has finalised its position. The Food Industry Council is due to complete its report on the implications of GMO trials in Tasmania by the middle of the year. In the interim, crop trials on public land have been suspended.ACT FUNDS BIOTRON
The ACT Government is investing $250,000 as seed capital in Biotron, a medical research spin-off company which is currently developing a number of products from research conducted at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. The products include Virion, which involves a compound (C9) which in laboratory tests stops the AIDS virus, and the C-Test a blood test which could detect all cancers. C9, developed by Professor Peter Gage, stops replication of the AIDS virus in the test tube by blocking ion channels, and is currently being tested on animals and being patented. Biotron is to be established as a separate commercial entity on the ANU campus, and plans to list on the Australian Stock Exchange this year.NEW GENE SHOWS PROMISE FOR CANCER
Scientists at the University of Queenslands Institute for Molecular Bioscience have identified a gene, Sox 18, which regulates blood vessel development and could have the potential to slow, and possibly stop the growth of a range of tumours. Sox 18 may also be able to speed up blood vessel development to hasten wound development and to treat circulation problems in diabetics.
The research, led by Dr Peter Koopman and Dr George Muscat, was published recently in Nature Genetics journal. Dr Koopman said the next step would be to establish which genes interact with Sox 18 to control blood vessel development and also what processes are required within cells to produce the final effects.Gene Technology Helps Diagnose Dementia
Gene technology is assisting researchers at the Garvan Institute to identify the causes of early onset dementia. Dementia is the fourth biggest cause of death in Australia.
According to the Institutes head of the Neurobiology Research Program, molecular biologist, Professor Peter Schofield, this knowledge should lead to development of new treatments for this debilitating condition.
In the past couple of years we have identified the gene responsible for additional forms of dementia. This information, combined with US research which identified the main genes responsible, allows better diagnosis of early onset dementia. From this point we hope to categorise the causes of a broader range of neuro-degenerative conditions he said.
According to Professor Schofield, without gene technology, improvements in the prevention and treatment of dementia will not be possible.
The type of approach being undertaken in the dementia research is also applicable in asthma, osteoporosis, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, manic depression and a number of other conditions, according to Garvans Acting Director, Professor Don Chisholm.
The Institute believes balanced debate is essential to guarantee the continuation of scientific research.
The current debate on gene technology is out of kilter. While it is important to examine the possible risks, there has not been enough recognition of the regulatory process or the potential to improve the health of adults and children, said Professor Chisholm.
An over-reaction on the gene technology debate could potentially limit or threaten the ability of medical research to produce improvements to health. That would be tragic, he said.
While acknowledging that there are risks associated with gene technology, Professor Schofield believes that the procedures in place are sound and will ensure gene technology is safely managed.
The current legislation being discussed to ensure gene technology is regulated in a safe manner is eminently reasonable. While there are legitimate concerns regarding gene technology, the proposed new regulations should provide the community with confidence that gene technology is monitored and properly controlled, said Professor Schofield.
Professor Chisholm agrees on the rigour of the regulatory process.
The formal regulation will continue to ensure that gene technology is monitored and controlled. There has been a voluntary system for 25 years with very few breakdowns in compliance, he said.
During this time some great steps forward in medical research have been achieved due to gene technology.
According to Professor Chisholm, the new insulin analogs such as Lispro (Humalog) insulin for use in diabetes are an example of this.
Research undertaken by the Garvan Institutes Director, Professor John Shine, in his former position as a researcher at the University of California in the late 1970s, has led to the availability of human insulin for the treatment of diabetes and the subsequent development of new insulin preparations such as Lispro (Humalog) insulin.
These have substantial benefits for people with diabetes including better control of blood-sugar, a faster working time, and greater convenience as it can be taken immediately before a meal, he said. People with diabetes can thank gene technology for these improvements, he said.Bionomics Welcomes Call for Free Access to Human Gene Data
Executive Chairman of Bionomics Limited (Bionomics), Fraser Ainsworth, and the Co-Chair of Bionomics Scientific Advisory Board, Professor Grant Sutherland, welcomed the recent news that USA President Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had jointly called for scientists around the world to have free access to data compiled by researchers deciphering mankinds genetic code. The Human Genome Project has been instrumental in developing this genetic code.
Professor Sutherland is a past President of the Human Genome Organisation, which has played a significant role in the Human Genome Project.
Professor Sutherland said that, if implemented, this access may significantly assist Bionomics gene discovery programs by providing earlier and cheaper access to data.
Moreover, the key to Bionomics competitive edge, namely access to well-defined clinical material and world-class scientific teams at our affiliated research institutions would not be adversely impacted by this free access to raw data.
Mr Ainsworth emphasised that the joint Clinton/Blair announcement drew a distinction between raw fundamental data - to be made accessible to all - and gene-based inventions, which the announcement acknowledged should continue to enjoy intellectual property protection.
Mr Ainsworth pointed out that Bionomics research programs were directed towards gene-based inventions, and the Clinton/Blair announcement will not affect the processes for protecting such inventions.
Further information: Mr Fraser Ainsworth (08) 8232 9041, Professor Grant Sutherland (08) 8204 7284.FIRST ANIMALS CLONED FROM ADULT CELLS IN AUSTRALIA
Australias first cloned sheep from adult cells - a lamb named Matilda - was born on April 17 following research work at the South Australian Research and Development Institute and Adelaide University.
The lamb was born by caesarian section. Although cloning has been occurring using embryonic cells using nuclear transfer since the 1950s, researchers in Scotland in 1997 pioneered the creation of an embryo from an adult cell.
A few weeks prior to Matildas birth, researchers at Monash Universitys Institute of Reproduction and Development, had successfully achieved the birth of Suzi, a holstein calf born from cloned cells.
A joint research project between the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, Genetics Australia, the Victorian Institute of Animal Science (Agriculture Victoria, DNRE) and the Dairy Research and Development Corporation (DRDC) has achieved the first cloning in Australia of a calf from developed cells.
Cloning of calves using similar techniques has been achieved elsewhere in the world over the past two years.
Skin cells from a calf foetus bred for superior milk production were grown in the laboratory, then used in cloning procedures similar to those used to make Dolly the cloned sheep. This involved removing the DNA from eggs taken from a cow ovary, and replacing it, using an electrical impulse, with the cloned DNA. The eggs were then implanted into surrogate cows for gestation. 24 cloned eggs were implanted into 12 cows, and Suzi, the recently born calf, and another due to be born shortly, were the only two to survive.
Professor Alan Trounson, Deputy Director, Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, said the successful cloning put Australia at the leading edge of international research and was expected lead to new partnerships with multinational biotechnology and pharmaceutical groups.
It is anticipated that dairy cow clones could be available on the market within five years, and sold to dairy farmers for around $30 each.Whey Proteins Have Healing Properties
Scientists from the CRC for Tissue Growth and Repair in Adelaide have identified natural biological products in a waste product from the dairy industry which may play an important role in healing chronic ulcers and reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy.
The team of researchers have identified previously unknown proteins from whey, the liquid that separates from the curd during the cheese-making process. The CRC group have concentrated a mixture of growth factors from whey and are currently testing their medical applications. One potential use of whey-derived growth factors is the treatment of chronic ulcers, a problem which often affect elderly, bed-ridden patients and is a significant drain on health funds with up to ten million ulcers occurring per year. The whey extract has been shown to stimulate cells to grow and divide and move to wound sites and is now being tested in clinical trials.
Another potential use for whey-derived products is reducing the severity of side effects occurring in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These patients sometimes suffer mucositis, which is severe ulceration of the mouth and gastro-intestinal tract as a result of their treatment. This condition is extremely painful and also reduces the amount of treatment which can be received. The whey-derived extract may lessen the mucositis and so improve the patients ability to receive further treatment.
This work has been funded in part by the DRDC and GroPep Pty Ltd
Further information: Dr Leanna Read (08) 8204 7070 or Dr David Belford (08) 8204 7077A Novel Treatment for Horse Tendon Injuries
The CRC for Tissue Growth and Repair through two of its partners, GroPep Pty Ltd and the University of Adelaide, is currently coordinating a study on the efficacy of a protein called Tendotrophin in treating tendonitis in performance horses.
Approximately 10% of all thoroughbred racehorses in training suffer from exercise-related tendon injuries (tendonitis). These injuries may require resting periods of up to nine months and so have a major impact on the thoroughbred racing industry. Current treatments of tendonitis have had varying degrees of success and the chances of re-injury at the same site are around 50%.
Tendotrophin has been shown to promote repair of cells and tissues and preliminary results indicate that this protein can improve the rate and quality of healing in tendon injuries. It may also lessen the chance of future re-injuries. There are also potential applications for Tendotrophin in the equestrian sports of show jumping, dressage, eventing and polo.
This novel treatment of horses is now being tested, under veterinary supervision, using the facilities at the Roseworthy campus of the University of Adelaide. The principal researchers are Dr Robyn Woodward and Mr Simon Humphrys.
Further information: Mr Simon Humphrys (08) 8303 8857.Dr Read MADE Fellow
Dr Leanna Read, CEO of the CRC for Tissue Growth and Repair, was recently elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Technology and Engineering. The nomination for fellowship of the Academy recognises various outstanding achievements, including research publications, patents, management skills, reputation both in Australia and overseas, community involvement and success in applying the outcomes of technology.
Dr Read, who took up her appointment with the CRC in October 1999, was previously the inaugural Director of the Child Health Research Institute from 1989. Under Dr Reads leadership, CHRI gained an international reputation for high quality research with a strong focus on the commercial application of basic science. Dr Reads major research interests are the study of milk growth factors, in particular their potential clinical application. One possible use of these factors is the treatment of toxic side effects caused by drugs used in chemotherapy.
Dr Read is also a member of the Industry, Research and Development Board and chairs the Boards Biological Committee.New Pharmaceutical Industry Chief
Former First Assistant Secretary with the Federal Department of Industry, Science and Resources, Alan Evans, has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the peak group representing Australias prescription pharmaceutical industry - the Australian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (APMA). His appointment took effect from 14 February.
Mr Evans replaces Pat Clear, who is retiring from the position to become the non-executive Chairman of the APMA Board.
Mr Evans has enjoyed a distinguished career in the Federal public service, most recently as head of the Governments Action Agenda Taskforce, established last year to identify impediments to growth in various industries, including the pharmaceutical sector.
Mr Evans played a pivotal role in creating the Pharmaceutical Industry Investment Program, aimed at encouraging pharmaceutical companies to increase their employment, investment, research and development in Australia. The $300 million scheme is projected to deliver 1200 jobs and $6.9 billion worth of benefits to Australia.Biotechnology Means Business at QUT
Queensland University of Technology will introduce Australias first accelerated degree combining biotechnology and business from the start of next year.
The three-year biotechnology honours degree is designed for high-achieving students and will dovetail into either a Master of Business or a scientific PhD.
Biotechnology, research and legal partners in the program will provide three to 12-month internships and real-world lectures as part of the graduate studies.
Intake will be 30 students from 2001. The course will be delivered with the help of a Federal Government grant of $1.46 million awarded to QUT under a Science Lectureship Program announced on 28 March. The State Government will also contribute $200,000.
Roche announced that the European Patent Office has affirmed the issuance of its key patent on the recombinant Taq enzyme (European Patent EP-B-0395736), upholding all of the companys patent claims as granted.
Both the recombinant and native forms of Taq are used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a Nobel Prize-winning genetic analysis technology that has led to significant advances in basic research, DNA fingerprinting and in the diagnosis of important diseases such as AIDS.
The European decision lends credence to Roches request for an appeal of a recent US ruling, which rendered its native Taq patent (United States Patent No. 4,889,818) unenforceable. Arguments on Roches motion to appeal the ruling, among other things, will be heard in federal district court in San Francisco.
The European decision affirms the fundamental scientific discoveries behind our Taq patents, said Melinda Griffith, general counsel of Roche Molecular Systems. In our view it holds great significance for the bases of our appeal in the U.S.
The European Patent Office ruled that the purification of the full-length Taq enzyme by scientists David Gelfand and Susanne Stoffel was both novel and inventive. The European Patent Office clearly distinguishes Dr Gelfand and Ms Stoffels invention from all prior art, properly crediting them as the first to isolate and clone full-length Taq, said Dr Thomas White, senior vice president of Research and Development for Roche. In fact, the decision expressly states that the isolation of full-length Taq DNA polymerase is not plainly and directly desirable merely from the teachings of the closest prior art.
Recent R&D Start Grants in Biotechnology
The major limiting factor in the biotechnology industry is the processing of complex biological solutions such as blood. In the medical area there are serious problems in ensuring that the purified material is bacteria and virus-free. This project ill investigate the use of Gradipore revolutionary Gradiflow technology in large-scale blood purification. Research will focus on two major and related blood-purification applications: production of viral and pyrogen free biological products for pharmaceutical and other uses; and renal dialysis systems. The project will also aim to provide important research insights into potential treatments for life-threatening illnesses based on the principles of dialysis using the Gradiflow membrane system.
To develop the BioManager analysis platform of bioinformatics tools as a unique and powerful technology that will enable discovery of biological signals among vast amounts of data.
Bioinformatics is the application of information technologies to the management analysis of biological information. The BioManager project will construct World Wide Web-based platforms of applications with a database management capability which will simplify and improve the ability of biologists to undertake bioinformatics experiments. BioManager will provide generic and customised in-house computing systems for use on proprietary and public data by academic, genomic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical organizations.
Clunies Ross Award Goes to Biota Scientist
The Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Awards were presented in Melbourne recently for:
Each receives the award for their outstanding commitment and contribution to the application of science and technology in Australia and for inspirational leadership of future scientists.
Mr Steve Bracks, Premier of Victoria, and Mr Hugh Morgan, Chairman of the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation presented the 2000 awards at Hotel Sofitel in Melbourne on 29 March 2000.New Courses at RMIT
The new Graduate Diploma in Toxicology and Master of Applied Science in Toxicology at RMIT will enable students to acquire critical understanding of modern toxicology with a view to developing problem-solving skills which meet the needs of potential employers and the community.
The courses will be offered on a full-time or part-time basis. The modular structure will permit students to choose the number of modules to be studied per semester. Modules are available as single subjects, though there may be some prerequisites and requirements.
Graduate Diploma in Toxicology: two semesters full-time (12 months) or part-time equivalent consisting of seven modules.
Master of Applied Science in Toxicology: three semesters full-time (18 months) or part-time equivalent. To meet the requirements of this course students must complete the Graduate Diploma plus an additional three modules and a research project.Piglets Could Transform the Prospects of Growing Organs
The worlds first cloned pigs - five female piglets born on March 5 - bring closer the prospects of pig-to-man organ transplants.
Millie, Christa, Alexis, Carrel and Dotcom were produced by PPL Therapeutics, the Edinburgh company responsible for Dolly the cloned sheep, using a similar technique.
An end to the chronic organ shortage is now in sight, Ron James, managing director of PPL said. The company says that clinical trials of xenotransplantation - the use of organs from another species in human patients - could begin in as little as four years.
Analysts suggest that the market for organs could be worth £4 billion a year, with as much again for cells, such as pancreatic cells for producing insulin in diabetic patients.
Cloning pigs turned out to be harder than cloning sheep, PPL said, and involved an additional step, for which a patent is being sought.
However, the basic principle is the same. The nucleus of an adult pig cell - which contains the most important genetic information - is removed and used to replace the nucleus of another pigs egg.
Unlike sheep and cows, pigs need several viable foetuses in the womb to maintain pregnancy, so a single clone was not an option. Utrasound scans led PPL to believe that there were three or four embryos developing.
(Reproduced from The London Times.)Yeast aids research to beat killer diseases
Yeast, one of the building blocks of bread, beer and wine, is playing a vital role in revolutionary research to find new treatments for killer diseases such as malaria and Pneumocystis carinii, a major infection of AIDS patients.
Researchers from Melbournes Biomolecular Research Institute (BRI) have used genetic engineering to equip harmless yeast with the ability to produce a substance vital to the survival of the disease-causing organisms. This substance is used as a target for developing and testing new drugs to counter the diseases.
This advance means that it will be safer and less expensive for us to develop and test new drugs, as there is less need to perform dangerous experiments with the actual disease micro-organisms, says research team leader, BRIs Professor Ian Macreadie.
The breakthrough will particularly benefit people in developing countries by making drug production cheaper.
Microbial diseases such as malaria and Pneumocystis carinii lead to tens of millions of deaths every year. Each year malaria alone affects an estimated 500 million people and contributes to over two million deaths, many of them children under the age of five. Forty per cent of the worlds population lives in areas of malaria risk.
While most of the high death toll from malaria is in the poorer countries and results from a lack of any drug treatment, increasingly deaths are occurring because the parasite is developing resistance to existing drugs, Professor Macreadie says. These drugs are relatively inexpensive but they have been in use since the 1930s.
After seven decades the drugs have hardly changed but the organisms have. This means that we need to find new treatments, Professor Macreadie says.
Microbes that cause these infectious diseases have a fatal flaw that researchers use to fight them: the disease organisms have to produce the vitamin folate. Without folate the organism cannot survive.
The antibiotic sulpha drugs, which are in widespread use, work by preventing the microbe from producing folate. They are used to treat many different infections from simpler bacterial infections to more complex organisms such as the malaria parasite and Pneumocystis carinii.
The disease-causing organisms have been able to develop resistance to these drugs through mutations in a key enzyme, called DHPS, that is involved in the production of folate.
Professor Macreadie and his team have succeeded in producing the DHPS enzyme from Pneumocystis carinii in yeast. Researchers will be able to use this enzyme to develop and test new drugs for a range of diseases including malaria and Pneumocystis carinii.
There are 15,000 or so sulpha drugs that have been synthesised so far. Only about 40 or so have been tested because of the extreme difficulty, expense and danger in culturing these microbes for testing. Using the engineered yeast, screening can now begin to find other effective drugs, Professor Macreadie says. The next step will be to use the technique that led to the development of the worlds first influenza drug, Relenza . The technique is called structure-based drug design and involves determining the molecular structure of key components of a disease organism to find ways to interrupt vital processes.
Once we know the molecular structure of the DHPS enzyme we hope to develop a drug that will block it, thereby killing the disease-causing organisms,
Professor Macreadie says. We have focused this research on DHPS because it is absolutely required by the micro-organisms. We know that its active site does not seem to vary between strains of disease. This means we will hopefully overcome the problem of resistance.
The expertise of the BRI researchers has been recognised by the USAs Nationa Institute of Health (NIH), which is funding the work of Macreadie and his US colleague, Professor Steven Meshnick of the University of Michigan, with a grant of $2,300,000 ($400,000 being allocated to the BRI) over five years.UK BIOTECH INDUSTRIES ANNUAL MEETING
The year 2000 will be an important year for UK biotechnology with much activity fuelling the return of investors to the sector, Dr Paul Haycock, Chairman of the BioIndustry Association, told representatives of bioindustry at the Associations annual dinner held at the Natural History Museum in London. Dr Mo Mowlam was the guest speaker.
However, he stressed that there was no room for complacency as the UK was facing increasing competition from Europe, especially Germany. The future of the industry lies in the establishment of a small number of high-quality companies rather than in the indiscriminate funding of large numbers of weak companies and he predicted that the bubble would burst in Germany.
The UK sector still accounts for 50% of the total market capitalisation in Europe and represents half Europes number of bioscience companies. Dr Haycock said I predict that we will end up with around 100 strong companies in Europe with 60 of these being in the UK. This demonstrates the strength of the UK in the biosciences.
Dr Haycock also addressed the question of public attitudes to biotechnology issues, calling for joint industry and government action to ensure that there is an informed public debate on the social and ethical implications of the genetic revolution. The genetic revolution will change the way we live - requiring industry, government and the public to reappraise their attitudes to some fundamental matters. The Government needs to initiate a public debate and the BIA and industry are willing to play their role alongside Government and other stakeholders.
Dr Haycock continued However we will need strong government. Public attitudes to gene science may lag behind the important benefits these new technologies bring. Government may be required to decide what is in the interests of the nation when faced with negative attitudes.
In concluding, Dr Haycock said We have achieved a lot in the past year, and yet we now need to build on this momentum and communicate more effectively with public policy decision-makers, current and potential business partners and the general public. However, we need support. It is critical that all those involved in the industry are members of the BIA. This gives us the clout and credibility to represent the industry from a position of strength. It is also vital that we work in partnership with the Government and other stakeholders.Vaccines to Target Cancer, TB and Malaria
New vaccines against complex health problems such as cancer, tuberculosis and malaria, are now on the drawing-board, thanks to advances in gene technology and other scientific techniques.
Over 110 vaccine scientists from Australia and overseas met to share information on the latest strategies to improve human and animal health at the 7th Biennial Meeting of the Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics Conference which was held from March 19-22, in Lorne, Victoria.
Conference co-organiser, CSIRO Animal Healths Dr Andrew Bean, says the conference focused on both human and veterinary health applications for new vaccines and therapeutic treatments.
We are at a stage where many of the simpler vaccines have now been made. For the more complex and difficult health problems, such as tuberculosis (TB), HIV, cancer, and malaria, new approaches are required, says Dr Bean.
For example, researchers from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Melbourne are investigating a trial treatment for melanoma. As scientists are beginning to understand the key differences between cancer cells and normal cells, these differences could potentially be used as the basis for a therapeutic vaccine to treat cancer patients.
A major focus of the meeting was on how scientists are investigating the use of natural immune boosters, called cytokines, to help combat cancers such as melanoma, and a range of other human and animal diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
One of the latest strategies in developing an effective vaccine against malaria was described at the conference, which focuses on teaching the immune system to fight a toxin produced by the malaria parasite. The project is being undertaken by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Two million people around the world die each year from malaria.
Conference presenter and co-organiser, CSIRO Animal Healths Dr Marion Andrew, says new approaches discussed at the conference included vaccination with naked DNA (the genetic material of all living things), and the engineering of new designer antibodies.
There are many examples of creative approaches to disease prevention and treatment. DNA vaccination is proving to be an exciting new technology to deliver safe and effective vaccines. The use of modified, harmless viruses, to carry vaccines to specific parts of the body where they are needed is another example.
In many cases, an approach which uses a number of new techniques will be needed to beat those hard-to-solve disease problems, says Dr Andrew.
The potential of the human genomics project and new techniques to create and screen immense libraries of antibodies and other molecules to create new vaccines were focuses of the conference. According to Dr Peter Hudson of CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition, designer antibodies and their fragments now represent over 30% of all biological proteins undergoing clinical trials for diagnosis and therapy in humans.
Trial vaccines for contraceptive use in animals such as mice, wild foxes, and possums (a major pest in New Zealand) were also outlined at the conference.EUROPEAN BIO-INDUSTRIES WELCOME BIOSAFETY PROTOCOL AGREEMENT
EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, has welcomed the Biosafety Treaty, now called the Cartagena Protocol, and which was adopted last Saturday in Montreal, Canada, by delegates from 130 countries. The Association believes that this Protocol bodes well for the biotechnology industry and confirms that biotechnology can move forward to develop products beneficial for both man and the environment.
This is the first global treaty regulating trade in genetically-modified (GM) organisms, through the creation of a world-wide regulatory framework. It is important to see that the Protocol builds on the existing national and international regulatory base and provides guidance for those nations which are further developing their domestic regulations.
The Bioindustries Association confirms that health-care and pharmaceutical products are excluded from the Cartagena protocol, as they are addressed by other international agreements.
EuropaBio is confident that, under this Protocol, industry can continue to work cooperatively around the world to pursue biotechnology research and development activities, providing benefits for sustainable agriculture, for a healthy environment and for consumers.
The Protocol also marks the continuation of existing practice in which researchers work closely with national authorities in individual countries on matters including the protection of biological diversity.
The European Bioindustries Association is pleased to see that the Biosafety Protocol does not attempt to undermine the obligations of parties under existing international agreements: parties to the Protocol are also parties to the Vienna Convention which is the instrument establishing the relationship amongst internal agreements.
Whilst recognising that the conclusion of the agreement has been an important achievement, EuropaBio believes that the work to translate the agreement into practice now really begins.
Further information: Paul Muys, Communications Manager, tel +32 2 735 03 13.
$20 Million Boost to Technology Commercialisation
Victorias technology innovators received a $20 million boost of confidence with the launch of Victorias Technology Commercialisation Program by the Minister for State and Regional Development, John Brumby.
Mr Brumby launched the program at the opening of the 6th Annual Conference of the Australian Venture Capital Association in Melbourne, 16 November 1999.
This program is about positioning Victoria as the nations knowledge and high technology capital, he said.
The Program will assist the development of technology companies by providing entrepreneurs with access to high-quality professional business development services such as:
Mr Brumby said one of the main outcomes of the program would be a rise in the level of venture capital investment in innovative technological companies, particularly in the start-up phase.
The Victorian Government is in negotiation with potential partner organisations which it is anticipated will form the core of commercial expertise that will implement the program.
For further information call on (03) 9651 9429 and ask about the Technology Commercialisation Program.GM DECISION DELAYED
Delays in finalising the recommendations of the Federal Governments taskforce on labelling of GM foods has caused a postponement in the planned May meeting of meeting of Federal and State Health Ministers.
The meeting had been scheduled to allow Ministers to confirm their previous decision to require the labelling of all food which has been modified using gene technology.
The meeting will now be held on July 28.
The taskforce handed in its report in early May but this was too late to allow the Ministers adequate time to review the contents which include a new set of costings by accounting firm, KPMG.
The initial costings by KPMG had indicated that the cost of labelling would be around $3-billion. The latest review suggests that the costs could be absorbed by food manufacturers without being passed on to consumers.
It has been suggested that the July meeting will adopt the European Union requirement that any product containing more than one per cent of genetically modified material should carry the contains GM label.Prominent Scientist Donates $1 Million
The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin, recently praised Professor John Shines generous donation of $1 million to the Australian Academy of Science.
More than 20 years ago, while engaged in research at the University of California, Professor Shine, the current Director of the Garvan Institute in Sydney, identified the genes for the human growth hormone and for insulin.
Professor Shines $1 million donation is part of a $20 million settlement involving the University of California, fellow researchers and a company that infringed the former groups intellectual property rights in relation to these discoveries.
Professor Shines generosity is a wonderful example of breakthrough research producing not only enormous human benefits through safer and cheaper treatments for dwarfism and diabetes but a result, after a long lead time, to the researchers and their organisations as well, Senator Minchin said.
Professor John Shines fundamental discoveries about the way genes are constructed and engineered are in every textbook of molecular biology. His discoveries have been applied to the production of two key hormones: human growth hormone and insulin.
The donation will assist the Australian Academy of Science renovate the Academys dome and surrounds in Canberra. The Academys fund-raising target is $2.4 million, of which $520,000 has been provided by the Commonwealth Governments Centenary of Federation Fund. A further $580,000 has been underwritten by the Academy pending fund-raising.
The Dome - or the Martian Embassy as many Canberrans refer affectionately to it - has been in need of renovation for some time now. Professor Shines magnanimous gift toward the renovation of the Dome is to be lauded by all Australians, as is his scientific work and continued philanthropy to the field of science. Senator Minchin concluded.AXON DEAL WITH MOTOROLA
Axon Instruments Inc has signed a supply agreement with Motorolas subsidiary, BioChip Systems, for the distribution of Axons GenePix 4000A microarray scanner as part of Motorolas bioarray technology.
Motorola BioChip Systems is developing an integrated bioarray system capable of performing single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and expression analysis which will be an important contribution to better understanding of genetic contributors to disease.
Both Axon and Motorola are strengthened by an agreement of this type, said Alan Finkel, CEO of Axon Instruments, Inc. Motorola gains a leading biochip scanner for its product offering, and Axon broadens its presence in the life sciences through an alliance with a company that has the proven ability to pioneer new technology-based industries.
Copyright 2000 - Australasian Biotechnology