A Medical Device Daily

Group Services for America's Blood Centers (Washington) said it has signed a multi-year agreement with Chiron (Emeryville, California), a business unit of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics , for the purchase of the Procleix West Nile Virus Assay and the Procleix HIV-1/HCV Assay.

Group Services for America's Blood Centers is a cooperative owned by America's Blood Centers (ABC), providing group purchasing enterprise expertise and resource -sharing services to ABC members.

The agreement extends the existing supply contract with Chiron, providing ABC members continued access to assays that have intercepted thousands of infected blood samples since their approval by the FDA.

Jerry Haarmann, president of the newly formed group purchasing organization, said, “This new agreement means that our members will continue to provide more than 4,200 hospitals and healthcare facilities across North America with blood products screened with the most sensitive technology currently available on the market.”

The Procleix nucleic acid tests incorporate nucleic acid testing technology to detect viral RNA and DNA in donated blood and plasma during the early stages of infection, when those infectious agents are present but cannot be detected by immunodiagnostic tests. The tests were developed in collaboration between Chiron and Gen-Probe (San Diego).

ABC is North America's largest network of community-based blood programs. Seventy-seven blood centers operate more than 600 collection sites in 45 U.S. states and Canada, providing half of the U.S. and all of Canada's volunteer donor blood supply. These blood centers provide blood products and services to more than 4,200 hospitals and healthcare facilities across North America.

In other grants/contracts news, Lexicon Genetics (The Woodlands, Texas) has received a grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research & Materiel Command (Fort Detrick, Maryland) for the identification of targets that may be important in the development of drugs to prevent or treat spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neurodegenerative disorder and the leading genetic cause of death in early childhood.

Lexicon will receive $2 million in funding for the one-year initial term of the grant.

SMA is characterized by a mutation in the SMN1 gene that leads to neurodegeneration. Lexicon will use its gene knockout technology to identify genes that, when knocked out, lead to increased levels of mouse Smn protein. The company will study about 750 pharmaceutically tractable genes in the research program.

Lexicon also has entered into an agreement with the SMA Foundation for the potential development of drugs based on discoveries resulting from the program.

Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic, motor-neuron disease characterized by the wasting of skeletal muscles. Caused by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord, the disease leads to increasing muscular weakness and atrophy and premature death due to respiratory problems.

The SMA Foundation estimates that more than 50,000 people suffering from SMA in the U.S, Europe and Japan.

Lexicon said SMA research and therapeutics development may be applicable to other neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and Alzheimer's. Treatments also have potential for treating nerve damage resulting from chemical weapons such as sarin, nerve gas and other chemical agents.