It’s hard to keep up, but Silicon Valley companies have been doing a lot of new, crazy things lately in biotech. Here’s a summary of key developments:
–Mountain View’s OncoMed Pharamaceuticals has found a way to identify and target so-called "cancer stem cells," or the cells that can renew themselves to form cancer even after previous cancer growth has been removed from the body. Some good coverage of this by Dan Primack of Private Equity week today, who also reported yesterday the company has raised $13.9 million in a first round of funding, which included several local venture capital firms.
–A Burlingame biotech firm, Origen Therapeutics, has implanted human genes into chickens so that they can lay eggs carrying vast numbers of custom-made human "monoclonal antibodies" to fight cancer. It apparently also speeds up the process of growing such cells, and makes cheaper too. Here’s the story from our Merc colleague Lisa Krieger. And apparently the cells are more potent, if you believe the research. Anyway, these chickens are lightly referred to as "pharm animals."
–Geron, of Menlo Park, has launched a company to license its animal cloning technology to improve livestock, make drugs and develop pig body parts that can be transplanted into humans. This comes in anticipation of a lift by the FDA of a ban on selling food from cloned cows and other animals. Our colleague Steve Johnson has that story (free registration).
Wonder if we’ll all start making strange gobbling, oinking or mooing sounds soon.
–And here’s a dose of reality (free registration), concerning conflicts of interest in many studies about drugs. It is a story by colleague Julie Sevrens Lyons, and leads with an example of a Stanford research expert who gives a glowing endorsement of a company’s herbal supplement on a company’s website even though she has a financial interest in the Mountain View company. The story suggests this sort of thing is rampant in the industry. The story is pretty balanced, though, and lets the other side tell their story. Still, the end results are hard to argue with. Apparently, studies paid for by industry are three times more likely to have a favorable result than independent studies. "The entire system of drug testing is filled with conflicts of interest,” says Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University bioethicist.