• Astex Technology Ltd., of Cambridge, UK said it received its first milestone payment from AstraZeneca plc, of London, under a collaboration to identify novel drugs against a target implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

• Cerep SA, of Rueil-Malmaison, France, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, filed an IND application with the FDA for a new LFA-1 antagonist that was discovered, optimized and developed by the companies under their October 1999 drug discovery collaboration. A Phase I trial of the product is expected to begin by the end of this year. It also triggers an undisclosed milestone payment for Cerep, which is due to receive further milestones at specified stages of the clinical development process, as well as royalties on sales of any drugs BMS brings to market. LFA-1 (leukocyte function-associated antigen-1) is one of a family of adhesion proteins responsible for the accumulation of pro-inflammatory cells. The antagonist has therapeutic potential in a number of common diseases, such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

The Children's Cancer Institute in Sydney, Australia, has developed a genetic test capable of detecting one cancerous cell among a million healthy ones, it said. Now being tested in clinical trials with Australian and German children, the test is expected to improve child cancer survival rates.

• Crucell NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, and a team at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., reported positive animal data on a new HIV vaccine delivery system, at the AIDS Vaccines 2003 Conference in New York. The system, which is based on Crucell's AdVac adenovirus-based vector and cell production platform, combines adenovirus serotype 35 (rAd35) with an antigen derived from simian immunodeficiency virus. The study demonstrated rAd35 was effective at boosting immune responses after exposure to DNA or the most commonly used adenovirus vector rAd5. The effect was marked in hosts that had a pre-existing immunity against rAd5, which is known to lower immunity and complicate vaccine re-administration, Crucell said.

• Elan Corp. plc, of Dublin, Ireland, said it filed an IND application in August for a monoclonal antibody it is developing as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Subject to FDA approval, the drug candidate could enter a Phase I clinical trial before year-end. The antibody, which is being developed in collaboration with Wyeth, of Madison, N.J., is directed against A-beta amyloid and is intended for treatment of mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's.

• ESBATech AG, of Zurich, Switzerland, entered a collaboration with the University of Zurich for in silico screening of small-molecule libraries for compounds that modulate protein function. The agreement gives the company access to a software package developed by Amedeo Caflisch at the university. The technology already has been validated in a pilot study to find inhibitors of beta-site amyloid precursor protein-cleaving enzyme, a target associated with Alzheimer's disease. ESBATech will conduct further studies on the leads generated in the pilot study and also will search for molecules that appear to act on other targets relevant to Alzheimer's and to oncology. ESBATech will own whatever compounds it identifies through the screening, while the university would receive a payment upon commercialization. The university will retain ownership of compounds that are specifically designed on behalf of ESBATech, which will have exclusive worldwide licensing rights.

• GPC Biotech AG, of Munich, Germany, received fast-track designation from the U.S. FDA for its lead compound, satraplatin. The compound is intended as a second-line chemotherapy treatment for patients with hormone-refractory prostate cancer. Earlier this month, the company received notification from the FDA that it may begin a Phase III registrational trial for the drug candidate (see BioWorld International, Sept. 4, 2003). The fast-track designation permits the company to submit sections of its new drug application as they become available, rather than waiting until the completion of the trial. Approximately 75 percent of requests for fast-track designation are approved by the FDA. Shares in GPC rose close to 10 percent, above €7.85, following the announcement of the news on Monday.

• Graffinity Pharmaceuticals AG, of Heidelberg, Germany, began a research and development collaboration with Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco, to identify and develop small-molecule drug candidates. Genentech will provide targets, and Graffinity will develop lead structures for the targets. At that stage, Genentech has the option of taking an exclusive license on the products of the collaborative effort or continuing with a joint research program. Although the companies declined to reveal either the disease areas in question or the amount of money changing hands, they did say that the deal includes an up-front payment for Graffinity plus research funding and potential milestone payments for lead compounds. In addition, Graffinity may receive either development milestone payments and royalties, or non-U.S. rights to products resulting from the joint program.

The Max Planck Institute for Cellular Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, together with Definiens AG, of Munich, Germany, and Evotec Technologies GmbH, of Hamburg, Germany, is developing a standard setup for high-throughput, mostly automated RNA interference. The technology that the MPI-CBG developed for its genome-wide RNAi analysis of C. elegans has been adapted and expanded to apply to human cells. Evotec is contributing its "Opera" system for evaluating fluorescent arrays. Definiens is contributing its software for object-oriented image analysis, which enables automated analysis of image-based data. The publicly funded MPI-CBG, which was founded in 1998, has 21 working groups engaged in basic research on cellular processes.

• Pharming Group NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, said it established an expression system for the production of recombinant human fibrinogen in the milk of transgenic cattle. That forms the main component of a recombinant tissue sealant product the company is developing as a replacement for the plasma-derived fibrin-based tissue sealants currently on the market for promoting rapid wound closure. The latter's safety profile, Pharming said, is considered low and consistent quality is difficult to maintain, while supply is limited by the availability of human plasma donors. The development of a transgenic expression system will accelerate the company's preclinical and clinical development programs, it said.

• ProBioGen AG, of Berlin, has begun a feasibility study with Schering AG, also of Berlin, to compare the performance of a cell line owned by ProBioGen with an established line owned by Schering. ProBioGen, founded in 1994 as a spin-off from Berlin's Charité Hospital, is a contract manufacturer specializing in glycoproteins as well as viral vector and cell line design. The company called the contract with Schering "substantial," but declined to give specific financial details.

• Progen Industries Ltd., of Brisbane, Australia, raised A$9.6 million (US$6.4 million) by placing 6 million shares with Australian institutional and professional investors. The money will be used to fund further research and development of a portfolio of projects, including the company's main treatment for solid tumors, PI-88.

• Serono SA, of Geneva, presented new data on the benefits of the long-term use of Rebif (interferon beta-1a) for treating relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. A study carried out on 560 patients at 22 centers in nine countries confirmed that the administration of three weekly subcutaneous injections of Rebif 44 mcg was well tolerated over an eight-year period and succeeded in modifying the natural course of the disease. Serono presented the data at the 19th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis in Milan, Italy, on Friday.

• Xantos Biomedicine AG, of Munich, Germany, expanded its research in metabolic diseases to include a new discovery program for diabetes and obesity. The company has also begun a research and clinical development collaboration with Hans Hauner, director of the Else Kraener Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine at the Technical University of Munich. The program will examine how differentiation of fat cells may be related with the causes of Type II diabetes. Xantos is a functional biology and drug discovery company, developing drugs in the areas of cancer and metabolic, inflammatory and degenerative diseases.