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Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Flu In Big Trouble

Don't worry about the avian flu everybody. It messed with the wrong group this time. Them dumb birds aint got no scientists among them to fight back. But we do! So go ahead flu, come and get us humans. We got scientists!

There is biotech company that is working on a way of dealing with this pending pandemic. Our old friend siRNA is going to prevent the flu from replicating once it gets inside our bodies. The pandemic will work this way: the virus becomes infectious, hospitals begin to report cases to the public, panic will set in among the masses, the siRNA drug will be dispersed, the virus will dissapear and that little biotech company will become filthy rich! Now why didn't anyone else think of matching siRNA technology with the biggest health scare in recent history?

"In vitro and in vivo results were presented for siRNAs that are specifically designed to target conserved regions of the influenza viral genome."

Conserved regions are stretches of a DNA sequence that are the same among a variety of DNA genomes. In the case of the flu, conserved regions are conserved as the various strains arise from season to season. In other words, strains of the virus arise as the result of mutations. Conserved regions have not been subjected to mutations for many many seasons.

"We believe that targeting the conserved regions could enable a siRNA therapeutic to be effective against both current and future strains of the influenza virus, which is essential in stockpiling a treatment for rapid mobilization during an influenza pandemic."

We're not just going to fight the avian flu virus, we're going to fight them all. Each year they come at us, we're going to knock them out. Avian flu? You want some of this? What about the Spanish flu of the 1918 pandemic? Come on back! Thanks to conserved regions of DNA, we've got them all by the balls. Think of conserved regions as the Achilles heal of the virus world. The only weapon against that heal is siRNA.

The company that will be putting an end to the influenza problem is not very big. We'll call them Company A to avoid any lawsuits. How big is Company A? Pfizer, who lists itself as the worlds largest pharmaceutical company, employs over 115,000 people. The slayers of influenza have about 100 people. Of those 100, less than half work in the science end of the business. Of that half less than ten work directly on the avian flu project. Of that group of less than ten, most sit in on meetings and listen to the results of experiments and try to put together a story to tell their superiors regarding the progress of the work.

How did it all begin? Company A needed to find a new siRNA project. The drug target TNF alpha (for cancer and inflammation) has several drugs on the market already. By using the siRNA, Company A assumed they had a way around the patents against TNF alpha. They soon found out that they would not be going far with this project. They spent a lot of time on the issues of delivery and assay development. When they finally ran a mouse experiment with 300 mice, they knew their goose was cooked. They tried again. Same results, nothing. They changed the dose, the delivery reagents, the mice, the RNA sequence and on and on until they just couldn't face the future. They needed a smoke screen. It had to be an siRNA smoke screen so they could claim to be continuing on with their "siRNA program". That's a lot easier than saying that you are ending the damned thing. Enter siRNA against the avian flu virus.

Company A did not have the time to go back and use their research methods against a conserved region of the influenza virus. They found a "company" that had already been on the case. A research scientist from MIT had begun the "company" after his academic lab had made some findings that allowed him to sell the technology. He received funding and a "company" was formed. We'll call that Company B. Company B obtained enough preliminary data to sell the license to Company A. Company A announce the acquisition of company B on 2-23-06. On 3-16-06 presentated results demonstrating the effectiveness of the Company's small interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics to broadly target and inhibit influenza viral production. With a little bit of money and some clever talent scouting, Company A turned their siRNA research around in one month.

Now... will it put up a good fight against the influenza virus? I'm going to stop writing about it now but I will come back to you later with some results that can answer that question. Unlike the scientists who are fighting the influenza virus with siRNA, I am an observer. I have no money to be gained or lost. This is science. I admit my bias. I don't think it will work. I believe that millions will be spent and many a PhD will work long days on the project. In the end it will fade away. Stay tuned.

P.S. Job Posting 5-8-06

Company A is seeking a highly skilled virologist with a good understanding of drug discovery and development to join our team. This position requires an experienced bench virologist with a comprehensive knowledge of influenza and other respiratory viruses including viral research in an industrial setting; broad knowledge of viral assay methods, screening and characterizing anti-viral drug compounds, drug delivery methods, pulmonary delivery, and in vitro and in vivo studies to determine efficacy of anti-viral compounds. For the exceptional individual this position has significant growth and leadership potential. In this role, you will lead virology projects involving RNAi research with a focus on the therapeutic development of siRNAs. Successful candidate will, supervise one or more research associates, provide scientific leadership and guidance for virology research programs, and collaborate with other team members in the identification and optimization of new siRNA anti-viral candidate therapeutics.Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in virology or related field with 3-5 years experience; industrial experience preferred. We are looking for a hands-on bench scientist with good analytical skills and management abilities. Must be an independent and critical thinker, experienced in leading project teams, perform well under heavy work loads, and possess excellent oral and written communication skills. Experience in RNAi research preferred.

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