4SC AG, of Martinsried, Germany, and PACT Corp., of Munich, Germany, announced the completion of a pilot project that speeded up 4SC's technology of virtual high-throughput drug discovery by a factor of 50. Using algorithms to predict biological activity, 4SC's innovative virtual high-throughput technology allows a rapid selection of promising drug candidates against various diseases from a huge database of small molecules, the company said. In the pilot study a super-computing processor developed by PACT was integrated into the high-throughput process. The processor has been able to speed up computer-aided drug screening 50-fold, 4SC said. 4SC's chief scientific officer and co-founder, Daniel Vitt, expects 10-fold acceleration rates under everyday conditions to be realistic.

Australian federal government officials doubled the amount available in a special fund to assist the biotechnology industry by adding A$20 million (US$10.4 million). The addition to the Biotechnology Innovation Fund, designed to assist start-up biotech companies in advancing to proof-of-concept stage, was announced recently as part of the annual federal budget statement. In the government budgetary process, details of the annual statement are not usually changed once they are made.

Axxima Pharmaceuticals AG, of Martinsried, Germany, received a EUR1.4 million grant by the German Research Ministry for research related to drug targets for potential treatment of hepatitis C and AIDS. The grant is planned to fuel development of novel methods to validate these targets. The company expects these techniques to reduce development times.

Cambridge Drug Discovery Ltd., which specializes in the discovery of small molecules that modify cellular signaling, has been sold to the medicinal chemistry company BioFocus plc, in an all-share deal that values CDD at £27.5 million (US$39 million). CDD was founded in 1997 by four former employees of Pfizer Inc., and in 1999 took over Cambridge Genetics Ltd., a spinout from the UK Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology. In January it raised £7.5 million through a private placement.

German Research Ministry officials announced the winners of their Bio Profile Competition, which were three regional networks of academic groups and companies. Aiming at improving attractiveness for the foundation and settlement of new companies, the ministry plans to give grants to the winners. They are the Potsdam-Berlin region, which plans to improve its strength in genomics related to nutrition; South Lower Saxony, in the middle of Germany, which wants to strengthen its profile as a location with excellent knowledge in functional genomics to be used for development of new drugs and diagnostics; and the Stuttgart/Neckar-Alb region in the southwest, which aims to become a location of excellence for companies running projects in regeneration of tissues and organs.

MediGene AG, of Martinsried, Germany, sold its 30 percent stake in MediGenomix GmbH to the bioanalytical company Eurofins Scientific SA, of Nantes, France. MediGenomix is a bioanalytical company. It was spun out from MediGene in 1998 and offers services for research in applied DNA analysis, including paternity tests, forensics, food and environmental analyses, pharmacogenetics, genome sequencing and bioinformatics. MediGene said the deal confirms its strategy to focus on drug research and development and commercialization. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Noxxon Pharma AG, of Berlin, expanded its management board. Michael Courtney, former executive vice president and chief scientific officer with Paris-based Transgene, will join Noxxon as CSO, taking responsibility for research and development as well as implementing Noxxon's manufacturing strategy. Mathias Grote joins Noxxon as director of business development. He will be responsible for collaborations and licensing, Noxxon said. Grote previously held a position as head of business development with Chiron-Behring, of Marburg, Germany.

Oxxon Pharmaccines Ltd., of Oxford, UK, said it commenced Phase I trials of its lead compound, a vaccine against melanoma. The trial will evaluate safety and immunogenicity in early stage patients who have a low tumor burden, and are thought more likely than later-stage patients to mount an effective immune response. Oxxon's proprietary "prime boost" approach involves sequential immunization, using different vectors to deliver the same antigen, with the aim of eliciting a T-cell response. This two-stage approach has been shown to generate high levels of CD8-plus cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses against the target antigens.

The BioIndustry Association has completed its merger with the Scottish Bionetwork Association, creating the largest biotechnology trade association in the UK.

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