Tag: Synthetic biology

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

In Forbes, Matthew Herper this week deals with the failure of Bydureon eventide, the once-a-week anti-diabetes shot developed by Eli Lilly and Amylin Pharmaceuticals. In a head-to-head Phase III trial Bydureon was not superior to Victoza, the once-a-day drug by Novo Nordisk, in terms of lowering blood glucose levels. Both are synthetic versions of glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. In another article, Herper looks at the biotech busts and breakthroughs of Februay, from KV Pharmaceuticals (shares up 400%) to Orexigen (shares down 64%). Herper concludes that the rejection of the Orexigen drug Contrave by FDA – the third rejection of an obesity drug in a row – “killed the obesity drug field.”

Wired this week features a story by John Timmer who describes experiments, in which the introduction of engineered viruses boost memory recall in rats. The improment is brought about by a viral protein kinase, but the exact mechanism ist still not understood.

In Germany, Sascha Karberg in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) revisits the attempts to cure AIDS by removing the gene for the receptor protein CCRS, which serves as the entry door for the AIDS virus, from the T cells of HIV-infected patients . Humans lacking the CCRS gene show natural resistance to the disease. The genetically modified T cells are then reinjected into the patients’ blood stream (see akampioneer, January 17). In a Phase I trial of this approach by Sangamo Biosciences, preliminary results have been encouraging, leading to a significant and durable increase of CD4+ T- cell counts in the patients.

Magnus Heier in Frankfurter Allgemeines Sonntagszeitung (FAS) deals with the ignorance of medical doctors in Germany regarding therapy guidelines and attempts to solve the problem by publishing patient versions of the guidelines in the internet.

Richard Stone in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) features an epidemic in Bangladesh caused by the Nipah virus, which was discovered only in 1998. The virus is spread by bats via raw palm tree juice, a delicacy for both bats and humans. Christina Berndt, also in SZ,  deals with the replacement of members in Germany’s federal “German Standing Vaccination Committee” (STIKO) responsible for handing out advice on vaccination practices. Berndt claims that some of the newly appointed members are too close to industry because they participate in vaccine studies sponsored by vaccine manufacturers.

In a five-part series, Kai Kupferschmidt in German weekly magazine Die ZEIT deals with synthetic biology, this week introducing companies developing synthetic fuels and novel ways to produce drugs. Surprisingly, the article does not feature a single German synthetic biology company but US companies only.

Food for Thought: Synthetic Biology

A lot has been written since last week’s publication of Craig Venter’s latest coup – the creation of the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome. While the reactions span from the  alarmist (“playing god”) to the dismissive (“nothing new”), most commentaries overlook that Venter has demonstrated that life – for now, bacteria – can be customized to an extend that by far exceeds conventional genetic technologies which merely introduce a few new genes into existing organisms.

For now, it is impossible to forecast the success of building and introducing synthetic genomes to manufacture organisms that spill out biofuel or clean up polluted shores at unprecedented efficiency. Synthetic genomes have only recently become available as the technology to accurately synthesize and assemble large pieces of DNA has made tremendous progress and has led to decreasing prices for synthetic DNA. Venter used 1078 cassettes of 1080 base pairs each which were assembled to a genome of 1.08 million base pairs. In comparison, the E. coli genome consists of about 4.6 million base pairs.

The real challenge now is understanding and commanding the interplay of the multiple genes that make up a functioning genome. Venter’s new bacteria provide an exciting testing ground for this kind of research, and that’s why the first companies to profit from this innovation will be the ones providing the technologies to synthesize and assemble large and complex genes.

In the meantime, the place to look at the field’s progress on a regular basis, is SyntheticBiology and the Biobricks Foundation.

1 2