Science by press release — PrimeGen’s murky stem-cell “breakthrough”

Last week, the Irvine, Calif., startup PrimeGen Biotech made a startling claim: It had successfully transformed adult skin, kidney and retina cells into stem cells, without using viral gene therapy that could trigger cancer. That would represent a significant advance over the discovery last year (see our coverage) that inserting just four genes into ordinary cells could reawaken their ability to transform themselves into any type of tissue, potentially opening the door to regenerative medicine that doesn’t rely on stem cells derived from five-day-old embryos.

Biochip and stem-cell biotech Minerva fires, sues its CEO

A potentially interesting legal drama is unfolding at Minerva Biotechnologies, a Waltham, Mass., startup developing biochips and exploring the biology of cancer stem cells. In a terse release, the company said it has terminated CEO Jim Czirr and launched a search for his successor. Minerva also said it has filed suit against Czirr in Massachusetts Superior Court.

Novocell: With diabetes study pending, investors pony up another $25M

Novocell, a San Diego embryonic stem-cell company, raised $25 million in a third round of funding. That’s presumably a bit of a letdown for the company, which had previously hoped to pull in as much as $35 million in the round. I wrote earlier about Novocell’s fundraising here.

Roundup: Biogenerics bill in limbo, clashing data on health IT benefits, the RNAi boom, and more

House-Senate confrontation set over biogenerics — Late last month, a key group of senators reached agreement on legislative provisions that would authorize copycat versions of biotech drugs, which are typically complex proteins manufactured by genetically engineered cells (see details here and here). These provisions would finally put biotech drugs — which don’t face cut-rate competition once their key patents expire — on a par with traditional pharmaceuticals, and have been a long time in coming. They’re not perfect, but they’re about as good a compromise as we’re likely to see any time soon..

Roundup: Guilt-free stem cells, the trials of Avandia, sponsor research bias, news from ASCO, and more

Flip switch for stem cells — Three research teams reported a technique for “reprogramming” skin cells into embryonic stem cells, those primordial bits of protoplasm that can propagate themselves indefinitely and, under the right conditions, transform themselves into any type of cell in the body. Deriving embryonic stem cells normally requires destroying an embryo — the main reason research with the cells remains limited, as does federal support for the work.

Legal cloud lifts from California stem-cell effort

The California Supreme Court swept away the last legal impediment to the state’s $3 billion stem-cell research program Wednesday when it declined to review two lawsuits that challenged its constitutionality.

Roundup: Anemia drugs under assault, stem-cell trial moves forward, medical interventions and poor “quality of death,” and more

Is the bell tolling for EPO? — The news keeps going from bad to worse for the wonder drugs of biotech — the anemia treatments known as ESAs or EPO, shorthand for “erythropoiesis stimulating agents” and “erythropoietin,” respectively. Earlier today, an FDA advisory panel recommended new warnings for the drugs, which stimulate the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, as well as fresh clinical studies on their safety. Recent studies in kidney-dialysis patients linked higher doses of ESAs to heart problems and strokes, while studies in cancer patients treated for chemotherapy-related anemia have suggested that the treatments don’t improve patient survival, and may even cut lives short — possibly by encouraging tumor growth.

Health and science roundup: Amgen, generic biologics, the origins of white people and more

Amgen’s anemia rollercoaster — Biotechnology titan Amgen may have dodged a bullet when a study released Thursday showed that its anemia drug Aranesp didn’t shorten the lives of patients, after several other studies had suggested the opposite. But its anemia franchise isn’t out of the woods yet. A Wednesday report in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that for-profit dialysis clinics prescribe far higher doses of anemia drugs to their patients than do their non-profit counterparts, suggesting a profit motive behind the overuse of drugs that have been linked to cardiovascular problems at high doses.

Brazil’s great stem-cell experiment

[Editor’s note: David Hamilton, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has covered the biotech sector for years and we’re delighted to have him as a contributor on news and trends in biotech, health and science (we’ve already run a few of his pieces). Biotech and health start-ups haven’t been a VentureBeat focus, but they’re important. We plan to create a separate forum for his work, and point to his more important stuff from VentureBeat.]

Brazil’s great stem-cell experiment

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Is Big Pharma tiptoeing into embryonic stem cells?

(Note: This item has been copied over to the Life Sciences page from its original location on the VentureBeat main page. To view it in its original context, with comments, click here.)