Archive for September, 2010
SBIR/STTR/CPP EXPIRATION LOOMS (circulated by Rick Shindell, reposted by AlleleBlog)
The SBIR/STTR/CPP now appears likely to expire on Thursday night, September 30.
Some will deny it but here’s what’s happening.
Allegedly the Senate and House were close to a compromise complete with an 8 year
reauthorization of SBIR/STTR/CPP but each time it goes back to the House (Nydia &
Day), they change the VC language to masquerade 100% VC involvement as a compromise.
Because time is so short, the Senate passed a bill (S.3839) to simply extend
SBIR/STTR/CPP through January 31, 2010. The House was going to pass it on Wednesday
with the President signing Thursday. However, the word on the street is that Nydia
Velazquez, chair of the House Small Business Committee, and her illustrious second,
Michael Day, are rejecting the bill and are poised to let SBIR expire if necessary,
at least in the short term.
It seems that Velazquez’s hope is to move the SBIR reauthorization into the lame
duck session and incorporate all her Wall Street investors’ 100% non-compromise VC
ownership and jumbo award support into a must pass, end of the year omnibus bill
that can’t be touched by her detractors.
This sounds like a script for TV, but several years ago we had a similar year end
omnibus situation involving Nydia (as ranking member) and Sam Graves (subcommittee
chair) and BIO/NVCA, but the main difference was that the small business committee
chair was Donald Manzullo who nipped it in the bud. In our scenario today we have
to look to the House leadership to do it, but it will take your involvement.
Many senior people in the democratic party called for the House to support the
Senate compromise bill H.R. 2965, but Nydia ignored those calls, as did Jason
Altmire, the creator of this infamous Altmire Quagmire. Now Nydia’s really “miffed”
because last week she tried to “scrub” H.R.5297, the Small Business Jobs Act of
2010, but the Obama administration and Speaker Pelosi rolled her over and passed it.
CALL TO ACTION
If SBIR is important to you and your company, it’s time to get serious and realize
that this program can, and will go away unless you make a big noise to let your
politician’s know how you feel. All of us are sick of this, and we’re now facing a
lapse. Eight times this program has been deemed important enough to keep going (via
a CR) but will Nydia be successful in blocking this ninth attempt?
Voting will occur in the House on Wednesday and this may be the last time until
after the election that the SBIR extension bill could voted on. That means we must
act on Tuesday, September 28.
Here are some suggestions and rationale behind them.
CALL CALL CALL the House Tuesday September 21! Call Nancy Pelosi’s office at (202)
225-4965, Steny Hoyer (majority leader) at (202) 225-4131, Nydia Velazquez (202)
225-2361, also the House Small Business Committee line (202) 225-4038
Those of you who are good democrats, call the remaining House Democratic caucus
leaders: John Larson 202- 225-2265, Xavier Becerra 202-225-6235, Jim Clyburn
Those of you who are good republicans, call John Boehner (202) 225-6205, Eric Cantor
Tell them in your own words that SBIR is about to expire and is being held hostage
by Nydia Velazquez. Let them know how important continuation of SBIR is to your
business and the country. Ask them to please support S.3839 (additional temporary
extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment
Act of 1958) to keep the program from lapsing this week.
I realize that I’m asking you to do something that requires a good chunk of your
time. However, at the risk of losing you as a reader I must tell you that I donate
a large share of my time to try and keep you informed about this program, and I’m
not asking you to do anything for me, only for you and others like you. We do have
some good representatives from both parties BUT they need to hear from you and
If you’re bold ask, “I would like to know how a party can let itself get hijacked by
a few people (like Nydia) on a vitally important, highly regarded and accepted
program. This action is to the detriment of your constituents, the country, and
yes, even your own party!”
Here’s what’s going on in the back rooms (formerly smoke filled) The Senate agreed
on a 4 month extension for SBIR because they (Senate) largely (including many on the
Republican side) did not feel a reasonable bill could be passed in the lame duck
session. The Senate has offered up some huge compromises that some believe even
James Greenwood from BIO could live with. The very long shot is that with enough
pressure we might get a compromise bill passed by Thursday.
WHAT HAPPENS IF SBIR LAPSES, EVEN FOR A SHORT TIME
This is an interesting question. Theoretically those projects (grants and
contracts) that are already in place should be okay, but some not. All new unsigned
agreements would stop. Agency comptrollers may start adjusting their budgets to put
the overall 2.8% SBIR/STTR back into their own research pools. Administrative
funding for SBIR could be severely cut back. Remember, all of your grants and
contracts are “subject to the availability of funding.”
On the other hand, SBIR can be voluntary, so some agencies may choose to keep their
SBIR doors open, hoping for, or expecting the reinstatement of the program.
In any event, this is bad for you and the agencies.
The Insider will be on the Hill Wednesday and Thursday, so we’ll do a follow up
report to you asap.
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Off-target effects are a major problem when using RNA interference (RNAi) to silence genes in mammalian systems. One potential source of off-target effects, by either transfected siRNA duplexes or transcriptionally expressed shRNAs, is the inadvertent activation of the interferon response. There are several steps that can be taken to deal with this problem.
Interferon response is more likely when high levels of siRNA are used; it is important to transfect the minimum amount of the siRNA duplex that gives rise to a specific RNAi response, as assessed by the level of expression of the target mRNA and/or protein. The level of stable shRNA expression achieved by using lentiviral or retroviral vectors is comparatively modest. Unless very high levels of shRNA expression are achieved, for example, by using highly transfectable cells and a very efficient shRNA expression plasmid, nonspecific activation of the innate immune response are less likely to be induced.
Previous work has shown that the interferon response is induced by dsRNAs of ?30 bp in length and that perfect dsRNAs of as little as 11 bp in length can produce a weak induction. One possible approach to solving the problem of nonspecific activation of the cellular interferon response is to design the siRNA duplex or shRNA precursor so that it does not contain any stretches of perfect dsRNA of ?11 bp.
If activation of the interferon response remains a concern, it is possible to routinely check for this effect during the course of an RNAi experiment. Analyzing the level of expression of an interferon-response gene, such as oligoadenylate synthase-1 (OAS1), interferon-stimulated gene-54 (ISG54), and guanylate-binding protein (GBP), in the transfected or transduced cells by northern blot or RT- PCR assays are commonly used.
Can there be any more convenient alternative method for checking interferon response? One potentially useful product could be HiTiter™ pre-packaged lentiviruses that would have a fluorescent protein (mTFP1, mWasabi, or the brightest FP in lanYFP) under the control of an ISRE (IFN-stimulated response element) or GAS (IFN gamma-activating sequence)*. This could be another group of Product-on-Demand type of reagents, meaning that we will have the design ready, but only to produce them upon ordering. This way the cost to us and the price to customers can be kept at minimum.
*The expression of the interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) is induced by the type I interferons IFN-alpha and IFN-beta. A cis-acting element (TAGTTTCACTTTCCC, nucleotides -101 to -87) has been identified in its promoter of one of these genes, ISG54. This element is responsible for the inducible expression of the ISG54 gene and is referred to as IFN-stimulated response element. The human guanylate-binding (GBP) gene is induced by INF-gamma in fibroblasts within 15 minutes of treatment. An IFN gamma-activating sequence (GAS) has been identified in the GBP promoter (nucleotides -123 to -103). To create the interferon reporters, we would insert five direct repeats of this ISRE and/or four direct repeats of this GAS upstream of the basic promoter element (TATA box) and mWasabi GFP gene of the Allele’s patented pLico lentiviral plasmid backbone.
It should be noted, however, that simple transfection of cells with expression plasmids can induce low-level activation of the interferon response, presumably owing to the presence of cryptic convergent promoters that cause the expression of low levels of dsRNA. In general, very low-level activation of the interferon response, that is, activation that exerts a global inhibitory effect on protein translation of less than twofold, is unlikely to be a problem as long as the specificity of any observed phenotype is fully confirmed.
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RNA interference (RNAi) has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool to silence gene expression. Therapies based on RNAi are being developed in numerous application areas at fast paces. Although in basic research both expressed and synthetic double-stranded RNA molecules are broadly used to induce gene silencing, synthetic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are deemed easier to deliver in preclinical and clinical studies. Compared to synthetic siRNAs, DNA cassettes that express small hairpin RNA (shRNA), microRNA (miRNA), or strands of siRNAs have advantages of prolonged effects.
RNAi-expressing DNA cassettes have been incorporated into viral and non-viral vectors for delivery. Viral vectors for RNAi carry the same risks as those for gene therapies, and are currently not the method of choice for human therapies. Non-viral DNA molecules, often in the form of plasmids, can be easily created and reproduced, but their efficacy is hindered by delivery barriers at the tissue, cell, and the nucleus levels. These difficulties are in part due to the plasmids’ large size, presence of antibiotic resistance genes, and immuresponse-generating CpG islands created in bacteria during propagation.
One way to alleviate these difficulties with non-viral DNA vectors for RNAi is to use linear DNA cassettes. Linear DNAs traverse nucleopores efficiently. The DNA molecules can be conveniently produced by PCR reactions without going through production in bacteria, avoiding DNA modifications such as CpG motifs and the need for replication origin or drug-resistance genes. Linear DNA encompassing a promoter, coding region, and poly(A) signals has been used for protein production. Similarly, by incorporating a miRNA cassette into linear transcription unit driven by a Pol II promoter was used to express RNAi for inhibiting HBV (Chattopadhyay et al. (2009). There are now available technologies and commercial services (e.g. Vandalia Research, Inc.) to produce therapeutic grade linear DNA by specialized PCR reactions.
Allele Biotech’s patents on DNA-expressed RNAi provide a platform for highly express shRNA or siRNA from a DNA molecule as short as fewer than 200 basepairs, potentially more suitable for large scale production, and even more efficient transduction trough tissue, cell membrane, and nuclear pores than the large linear cassettes used by Chattopadhyay et al. A set of experiments similar to the cited HBV studies could quickly lead to the validation of a possibly the most effect way yet for RNAi therapeutics.
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Pools of DNA molecules of related but non-identical sequences are often used for selecting cDNAs that encode polypeptides with desired functions (such as in antibody screening), or DNA segments as protein binding sites (through SELEX), or DNA molecules that can catalyze reactions (DNA enzymes or deoxyribozymes), etc. The most direct way of creating DNA libraries is to introduce mixed bases during the synthesis of the oligos that will be used in creating the libraries.
1) The most commonly used method of generating degenerate oligos is to use mixed phosphoramidites (aka amidites, the building blocks of oligo synthesis) at desired positions in an oligo, e.g. using “N” to incorporate dA, dC, dG, and dT nucleotides, or “Y” for pyrimidines, “R” for purines. Mixed base oligos from most oligo suppliers are simple to order (and at no extra charge from Allele and a few other sources). During automated chemical synthesis of oligos, the synthesizer consecutively adds dT, dA, dC, or dG in the case of “N” at a pre-set ratio (e.g.25% each). This procedure does not always result in expected usage of each amidite because different amidites have different coupling efficiency, and the order of addition may also bias against amidites that are added later.
2) Using mixed bases like in method 1) leaves little control to achieve ratios of codons for specific amino acids. On the other hand, by using trimer amidites, which can be used for adding 3 nucleotides in each synthesis cycle, one can create oligos encoding selected amino acids at pre-determined percentages. However, this procedure is difficult to perform because trimer amidites are bulky and hard to couple to the elongating oligo; any moisture present during synthesis would have even more severe adverse effects than with regular amidites. Trimer oligo synthesis projects cost several thousand dollars per oligo on materials alone, and the risk is quite high that the oligos would not turn out of desired properties and qualities. For commercial users, this process has another problem—it is patented.
3) Another method for making library oligos is the so called “split-and-pool”, which is particularly suitable for having diversified amino acids embedded in otherwise common sequences like the CDRs within antibody variable regions. The latest oligo we made last month was a ~72 nt oligo with 8 locations that have pre-determined composition of amino acids, i.e. 20% Ala, 10% Gly, 12% His, etc. The procedure took us about 8 hours and we estimated the cost to be about $1,000. The subsequent sequencing results confirmed that ~70% of the clones using this oligo have desired degeneracy, compared to a similar oligo made by a bigger oligo company, at only 40%. In addition, we did not see any stop codon interruptions or major abnormalities.
DNA pools can also be generated by error-prone PCR, or more specifically with overlapping PCR using degenerate primers. The bottleneck for a library screening is how to handle big enough a number of colonies to accommodate the population, e.g. 10e10, or at least 10e8 clones are needed for finding high affinity antibodies. The second critical point is to have a robust and consistent selection readout such as fluorescence in cell sorting.
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