MethylGene and Pharmion Expand Collaboration on Epigenetic Therapies

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MethylGene Inc. (TSX:MYG) and Pharmion Corporation (NASDAQ:PHRM) today announced a “research collaboration for the development of novel small molecule inhibitors targeting sirtuins, a separate and distinct class of histone deacetylase enzymes (Class 3 HDACs) implicated in cell survival and death.”

MethylGene and Pharmion’s Class I specific HDAC inhibitor, MGCD0103, has demonstrated efficacy in a number of tumor types, and the sirtuins represent potentially attractive novel cancer targets within a related family of enzymes. Sirtuins (including SIRT1) have been shown to deacetylate histone proteins and numerous transcription factors, leading to promotion of normal cell survival and aberrant gene silencing in cancer cells. Inhibition of sirtuins allows reexpression of silenced tumor suppressor genes, leading to reduced growth of cancer cells, and anti-cancer effects have been observed with SIRT1 inhibitors in vitro and in vivo. As yet, no sirtuin inhibitors have entered the clinic. Synergies in gene reexpression have been demonstrated by combining SIRT1 inhibition with either standard cytotoxics or other epigenetic modifying drugs, including inhibitors of DNA methylation and histone deacetylation. Two epigenetic therapy combinations are already under active investigation in Phase II studies combining Pharmion’s Vidaza, a DNA hypomethylating agent, with MethylGene and Pharmion’s HDAC inhibitor, MGCD0103. The parties intend to explore combinations with resulting anti-sirtuins as well.


SensiGen Secures Option for Licensing Lupus Biomarkers

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Ann Arbor, Michigan-based SensiGen LLC has acquired an option to license a set of epigenetic biomarkers for the early detection and monitoring of lupus from the University of Michigan. The technology consists of “a patented panel of proprietary biomarkers for epigenetic variations of genes uniquely associated with Lupus along with related research assays.

We previously covered the epigenetics of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in June 2006 when a review article (published by researchers at the University of Michigan) concisely described the “epigenetic face” of the disease:

For instance, drugs that demethylate T cells, such as 5-azacytidine, are used by researchers to induce lupus-like disease in mice. Additionally, demethylation of certain gene promoter and regulatory sequences contributes to aberrant overexpression of various genes. Both of these findings suggest that DNA methylation may play a role in the development of lupus.

Histone modifications may also play a role in the development of SLE. SLE Th cells show abnormal expression of certain gene products involved in regulation of the immune system, but these effects can be reversed with treatment using a histone deacetylase inhibitor. This finding provides evidence that histone modifications, another epigenetic alteration, could play a role in the development of lupus as well.

Link to the SensiGen press release

Global Epigenomics Market to Reach $4.1 Billion by 2012

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“$4.1 Billion by 2012″ is the major finding of a market report on the global epigenomics market published by BCC Research. The report identified three key market segments that will be commercially important in the field of epigenomics in the next 5 years: research tools, cancer diagnostics, and cancer therapeutics.

There are three major highlights from the report (which I have not read in its entirety due to its cost):

  • The global market for epigenomics was $161.8 million in 2005 and $263.2 million in 2006. The market will cross $385 million by 2007 and at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 60.4% will reach nearly $4.1 billion by 2012.
  • Drug applications for epigenetics are by far the largest sector of the market. These drugs will hold 61% of the total global market in 2007 and will grow to over a 65% market share by 2012.
  • Epigenetic diagnostics has the most potential for growth through the forecast period. In 2006 and 2007 its applications were negligible, but by 2012 this booming sector will be worth over $947 million.

The full market report is available for US$4,850. Link

Epigenetics Attracting Attention from Investors

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I’ve talked before about e-mails I commonly receive from consultants, investors, and others regarding investment ideas of companies that are poised to take advantage of the research being done in epigenetics. I thought I would share a recent example of one such e-mail:

Hello Trevor-

Congrats on getting this site up. I first read about epigenetics in Discover magazine last year. It’s very interesting and intuitively seems more correct than “traditional” ideas about evolution. It’s a relief to have research that would validate the rise of cancers and “DNA gone mad” accumulated from the many internal and external toxins we have exposed ourselves to in just the past 3 (or so) generations.

This brings a sense of continuity and a more holistic element into our ultra individualistic society.

Keep up the good work.

On a side – I am also a student looking to pay my way through school. Given the emerging research and application of epigenetic research – I would like to invest in a company or research institute that will be applying the advancements to the marketplace. Would you have any advice for me as to where I can look for who is using the information and how? Would you suggest pharmaceutical company websites?

Now, here was my response:

Thank you for the comments. I am also very excited about the advancements being made through our growing understanding of epigenetic processes and our potential to understand more about cancers and diseases that have become prevalent over the past several generations. I like to point out to readers that I am literally learning about all of this just as you are — I had not taken a single genetics course when I started this site and thus my understanding of the methodologies used to increase our understanding of epigenetics was limited.

Regarding investments in companies that are applying these advancements to the marketplace, two companies I would look into are Epigenomics and MethylGene. Both companies are using publicly and privately funded research advancements to develop clinical tests and other marketable products. I have to also say that I am not an investment manager or expert and these should not be taken as endorsements of investments in these companies. I have no investment in either company nor any interest in suggesting that others invest in these companies. These are merely two companies that I know of that are ” applying the advancements to the marketplace.”

I hope this was helpful and I hope you continue to enjoy our coverage at Epigenetics News.


It’s clear that investors are taking an active interest in epigenetics as a field that will shape market advances in the coming years.

Potential Conflict of Interest at NIEHS

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The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is under fire. Effect Measure, a blog written anonymously by public health experts and practitioners, has written a critical review of David Schwartz’s two year term as director of the NIEHS:

Schwartz, like other Bush appointees, has a penchant for outsourcing public functions to private concerns, and under his boss, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, even the peer review function was put out for bids. Schwartz has been dismantling the flagship environmental health scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), moving to outsource it, gut its news and comment sections and eliminate the foreign language editions. EHP is an open access journal, but if it is outsourced it may not remain that way. The biggest losers are the many scientists in the developing world, whose environmental problems dwarf those in the developed world. Schwartz had given his word that EHP would not be privatized, an assurance forced on him by congressional pressure. But one of the most disheartening aspects of his reign is that his word cannot be relied upon. Link

The comments from Effect Measure were primed by an article in the LA Times indicating that Sciences International, a private consulting firm, is being questioned by Congress regarding its role as an advisor to the NIEHS and potential conflicts of interest. The potential conflict of interest in question is that in 2006, Sciences International had clients that were among the largest names in the chemical industry, which produces compounds that have been shown to be damaging to reproductive health.

“The most significant project at our firm is the management of the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction,” the Sciences International website says. It says half its clients are from the private sector, but its health studies are independent and it “is proud of its reputation for objective science.”

Its current website contains no list of industry clients. But a 2006 version names BASF and Dow Chemical — which manufacture the plastics compound BPA — as well as DuPont, Chevron, ExxonMobil, 3-M, Union Carbide, the National Assn. of Manufacturers, and 45 other manufacturing companies and industry groups.

In 1999, Sciences International represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in fighting an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate a pesticide used on tobacco crops. In 2004, its vice president, Dr. Anthony Scialli, who is identified as the federal center’s “principal investigator,” co-wrote a study with a Dow Chemical Co. researcher on how to extrapolate data from animal tests to humans.

In addition, another Sciences International employee who works at the federal agency, Gloria Jahnke, has collaborated nine times on chemicals research with another company that gets funding from the plastics industry, according to a Times review of medical publications. Link

Director David Schwartz has written letters in the past indicating his support of epigenetics research, and his 5-year plan for the agency highlighted epigenetics as an important avenue of investigation.

Update: Additional information on Sciences International and the debate on “privatizing science” is available at The Pump Handle, a relatively new blog on public health. The article is written by Dr. David Michaels, who heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Link

Nygaard Named New CEO of Epigenomics AG

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Epigenomics AG (Frankfurt: ECX) has appointed its new CEO: Geert Walther Nygaard, formerly managing director and member of the management board of pharmaceutical and diagnostics company Abbott GmbH & Co. KG.

    Nygaard started his career in Denmark, working for Diagnostics companies Beckman Instruments and Dako A/S in national and international positions. He joined Abbott in 1999 as the company’s Country Manager in Denmark from a position as Managing Director of Dako AG in Switzerland. He then moved on into positions with increasing responsibilities, including business development and marketing for Abbott Diagnostics in Europe.