Target Discovery Engine for ALS, DRAGEN Update, Anti-Aging Analytic Software, More

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022 | Illumina announces a DRAGEN analysis software update, Merck announces a Digital Sciences Studio to support early-stage biomedical startups; a new suite of informatics tools anticipates pharmaceutical manufacturing bottlenecks; Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK announces the Novartis Biome UK Heart Health Catalyst 2022 Initiative; and more. 

Illumina has released Illumina DRAGEN v4.0 with new features designed to expand laboratories’ abilities to perform analyses in oncology, pharmacogenomics (PGx), single-cell sequencing, and population genomics. Illumina acquired the software in 2018 with the acquisition of Edico Genome. According to the company, the v4.0 update includes expanded PGx capabilities; boosted whole-genome sequencing (WGS) and genetic disease insights, specifically in handling short tandem repeat (STR) expansions; a new end-to-end imputation pipeline to allow researchers to use the platform with low-pass sequencing data; and simultaneous profiling of transcriptome and epigenome. Press release. 

China’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases Control and Prevention analyzed 2.8 million sequenced SARS-CoV-2 genomes and compiled a “mutations blacklist” of virus weak spots and a “whitelist” of mutations that make SARS-CoV-2 more transmissible. In addition, the team developed an online SARS-CoV-2 monitoring and pre-warning system (MVMPS), which houses a dynamic curve that shows, in real-time, the proportions of each mutation and variant in all the SARS-CoV-2 strains. The hope is that the MVMPS will monitor the occurrence and development of these mutations and variants and provide vital early warning information to help with prevention and control measures. Press release.

A 10-year collaboration agreement between Mayo Clinic and Mercy—a first-of-its-kind alliance between two large health care systems—will use the most current data science and years of de-identified patient outcomes to find diseases earlier and start patients on paths to better health more quickly. Mayo’s expertise in highly complex care and extensive investment in data science platforms, together with Mercy’s two centuries of innovative care delivery in diverse communities and vast clinical information–including more than 500 million de-identified patient encounters–will provide the opportunity to develop high-value solutions and algorithms leading to more optimal care for patients. The resulting algorithms will represent the next generation of proactive and predictive medicine to access best practices in medical care. Press release.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced the founding scientific team of the Chan Zuckerberg Institute for Advanced Biological Imaging. The institute aims to develop new imaging hardware and software tools to provide views of biological systems in their native context comprehensively. Building on the progress of CZI’s Visual Proteomics grant program, the institute’s initial scientific focus is to develop new technologies to map proteins and other macromolecules in cells at near-atomic resolution. As an extension of the CZI Imaging program, the institute will ensure broad access to tools–hardware, software, biological probes, protocols, data, and platforms–through a visiting scientist program to benefit the imaging field. Press release.

Synthego, the genome engineering company, announced that the company has broken ground on a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility designed to accelerate translational and clinical research development timelines for cell and gene therapies to as little as a year. The next-generation good manufacturing practices factory will enable Synthego to significantly expand the production of its precision gene editing tools, which support a broad panel of nucleases, and meet the needs of biopharma customers who are advancing the research and development of CRISPR-mediated gene therapies. Press release.

Ginkgo Bioworks, a horizontal platform for cell programming, and Zymergen, the biotechnology company, announced their agreement that Ginkgo would acquire Zymergen in an all-stock transaction valued at an approximately $300 million market capitalization. Ginkgo plans to integrate Zymergen's core automation and software technologies for scaling strain engineering capacity into its Foundry, including Zymergen's machine learning and data science tools for exploring known and unknown genetic design spaces. The agreement represents Ginkgo's largest acquisition to date. It will significantly enhance Ginkgo's platform by integrating robust automation, software capabilities, and a wealth of experience across diverse biological engineering approaches. In addition, Ginkgo will support Zymergen's plans to evaluate strategic alternatives for their Advanced Materials and Drug Discovery businesses, which have established valuable product pipelines and rapid prototyping capabilities. Press release

InterVenn Biosciences announced the expansion of its global presence with multiple new locations, including Mandaluyong, Philippines; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Melbourne, Australia; and San Diego, California. This expansion scales InterVenn’s software development, technical support, clinical research, and business development. The company was co-founded by world-renowned scientist and Stanford professor Carolyn Bertozzi, Ph.D., highly respected innovator and UC Davis professor Carlito LeBrilla, Ph.D., and Aldo Carrascoso, an expert in AI/ML and blockchain. Press release

Cartography Biosciences, a precision medicine company, launched with $57 million in initial funding and plans to advance a pipeline of therapeutics designed to broaden the reach of next-generation cancer therapies and conduct a breadth of discovery programs to identify novel, best-in-class target antigens across various cancer indications. Cartography's platform integrates innovative computational and experimental techniques, including single-cell genomics and proteomics, with high-throughput binder discovery capabilities. Cartography uses its modality-agnostic antigen profiling platform as a roadmap to create novel immunotherapies while minimizing potentially toxic side effects. Press release

The Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre announced the launch of Cambridge Structural Database (CSD)-Particle, a new suite of informatics tools anticipating manufacturing bottlenecks and guiding formulation decisions with a deep understanding of particle behavior. Drawing on data from the CSD, this new suite of visual and statistical tools will allow scientists to analyze crystalline particles' mechanical and chemical properties rapidly. Several large pharmaceutical companies have aided and guided the development of CSD-Particle, including AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb. Press release

DNAnexus and Twist Bioscience Corporation announced a collaboration to accelerate research in designing, validating, and commercializing new, high-quality, next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based diagnostic tests. As part of the collaboration, Twist customers can use the integrated DNAnexus platform with Twist’s NGS Methylation Detection System and Unique Molecular Identifier (UMI) Adapter System to simplify data analysis after sequencing. The Twist NGS Methylation Detection System provides robust sample preparation and target enrichment solutions for identifying methylated regions in the human genome and uses extremely sensitive hybridization capture-based technology that can integrate into diagnostic tests. The Twist UMI Adapter System detects low-frequency variants in low-input sample sources such as cell-free DNA and can be used to enable cancer research. The DNAnexus platform allows users to easily explore and analyze complex datasets in a single, scalable, cloud-based environment. Press release

AiCure, an artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics company, announced that the US Defense Health Agency PTSD-DT Program would deploy AiCure's AI platform in its post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) adaptive platform trial to evaluate the efficacy of multiple PTSD treatments in both active service members and veterans. The trial aims to develop a precision medicine approach based on a patient's unique biological and clinical characteristics. By optimizing personalized treatment matching, the PTSD-DT Program and AiCure aim to improve service members' quality of life and maintain troop readiness while informing the development of future therapies. Press release

Cancer Research UK recently joined the UK Health Data Research Alliance. It will work in partnership with some of the UK’s leading health and research organizations to maximize opportunities for trustworthy use and sharing of data for research and development. Seventy members of the alliance will work to create consistent standards, create more transparency on available datasets, and shape regulations on the ethical use of health data at scale. As part of its membership, Cancer Research UK–and its innovation engine Cancer Research Horizons–will make information on datasets available on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway, the UK’s portal for discovering and accessing health data. Press release

HRH The Duchess of Gloucester officially opened the Heart and Lung Research Institute, a major new addition to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The institute is a joint venture between the University of Cambridge and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The institute has set an ambitious target of developing at least ten new drugs or diagnostic approaches for heart and lung diseases within five years. Over 380 researchers and clinicians will be located across various facilities, including the British Heart Foundation Cambridge Centre for Cardiovascular Research Excellence, Cystic Fibrosis Trust Innovation Hub, Wolfson Lung Injury Unit, and a clinical research facility due to open later this year. Press release

Insilico Medicine announced that the company identified multiple unreported potential therapeutic targets for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) using its proprietary AI-driven target discovery engine, PandaOmics. The research was in collaboration with Answer ALS, the largest and most comprehensive ALS research project. PandaOmics helped analyze the expression profiles of central nervous system (CNS) samples from public datasets and direct induced pluripotent stem cell-derived motor neurons (diMN) from Answer ALS. As a result, the team identified twenty-eight targets from CNS and diMN samples; suppression moderately or strongly rescued neurodegeneration for 18 targets (64%). Press release

A research group from Turku Bioscience Centre in Finland developed a new method for studying microbiota through metaproteomics for human health, disease prediction, prevention, and treatment. The technique is a new mass spectrometry-based approach, which enables extensive studying of protein levels in complex microbiota samples. It utilizes the latest mass spectrometry technology and advanced computational methods, enabling significantly better coverage and reproducibility of the results. The computational approach has been published as open-source software and is freely accessible to the research community. Press release

Deep Longevity, a biogerontology company developing anti-aging analytic software based on AI algorithms, was granted the first microbiome aging clock patent after identifying bacteria that could modify basic aging processes and affect a person’s lifespan. The patent guarantees that Deep Longevity holds priority over any anti-aging applications based on gut community profiling. The company plans to develop commercial products in 2023. Press release

Bruker Corporation launched PhenoRisk PACS RuO, a research-use-only nuclear magnetic resonance test for molecular phenomics research on post-acute COVID syndrome (PACS)–or “long COVID” patients. It uses a multiplexed combination of biomarkers discovered at the Australian National Phenome Center at Murdoch University. The PhenoRisk PACS RuO test characterizes metabolic and proteomic biomarkers of SARS-CoV-2 pathobiology, even in asymptomatic acute COVID cases, thereby enabling multi-organ risk assessment, recovery, and therapeutic research in multiple long COVID dysfunctions. The test also quantifies composite signals for groups of glycoproteins and phospholipids, indicating inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk. Press release

Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK announced the Novartis Biome UK Heart Health Catalyst 2022 launch in a world-first investor partnership with Medtronic, RYSE Asset Management, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and the trust’s official charity CW+. The ambitious initiative aims to identify and scale innovations in the at-home blood pressure management and non-invasive lipid testing space. Applications are open to health-tech start-up founders, researchers, and technologists working on innovative solutions to enable system-wide change in cardiovascular disease patient care pathways. Successful applicants will receive an investment of up to £3 million, access to a global network of established distribution partners, and immediate NHS pilot and validation opportunities. Applications close on August 31, 2022. Press release

Merck announced the launch of the Merck Digital Sciences Studio (MDSS) to support early-stage biomedical startups and enable innovative technologies for drug discovery and development. MDSS will provide collaborative support and access to powerful computing for 12 entrepreneurs–six startups at each of the Newark, NJ and Cambridge, MA venues–in the first MDSS cohort. Priority will be given to startups developing artificial intelligence and machine learning. The MDSS is a collaboration between Merck and the New Jersey Innovation Institute, a New Jersey Institute of Technology corporation. Entrepreneurs interested in applying should visit the MDSS website. Press release

Eurac Research, a private research center, and South Tyrolean companies Minnova Med and Kerr S.r.l. conceived MedSENS–an instrument that measures various vital parameters from the ear canal. In emergency hypothermic situations, determining core temperature as accurately as possible is essential for proper triage. Unfortunately, this information is not always easy to obtain, as current thermometers are not always accurate, and probes often cannot be inserted in the field. MedSENS measures body temperature, heart rate, and oxygen saturation with a complete picture of essential vital parameters sent wirelessly to rescue teams. The research team is currently looking for large-scale production and commercialization partners. Press release

Beckman Coulter Life Sciences launched the Biomek NGeniuS liquid handling system. The compact instrument virtually eliminates loading errors by using optical analytics to guide users with real-time feedback on labware placement. The system also checks for capped reagent vials, misplaced or un-removed plate covers, and missing thermal cycling pads. A proprietary software portal allows batch setup and remote system monitoring from a user’s Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge-enabled computer. Temperature-controlled reagent storage enables users to run end-to-end chemistries and protect reagents from thermal degradation and potential waste of precious samples. Press release.