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2004 News

December 2004

Syntaxin gene patent granted in USA

Drought tolerance, seedling vigour and other crop benefits

PBL is pleased to announce that its patent relating to the Syr1 gene in plants has been granted in USA with number 6,821,735. Syr1 is a syntaxin involved in ABA response.

The gene was first cloned and characterised by Prof Mike Blatt (now at the University of Glasgow) and colleagues. Overexpression of Nt-Syr1 in transgenic tobacco causes a dramatic reduction in transpirational water loss, faster germination rate (2-3 days versus 5-6 days in controls) and more robust and vigorous plant growth, and reduced susceptibility to insect (aphid) attack.

Enquiries : ajsc@pbltechnology.com

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December 2004

Patent granted for powerful new antimicrobial screening technology

PBL is pleased to announce that the patent for its SigE antimicrobial screen has recently been granted. This broad spectrum screen is Streptomyces-based and was developed by Dr Mark Buttner & colleagues at the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK) from research that identified a key pathway in the bacterial response to cell envelope perturbation / disruption. Significantly, the bacterial cell envelope is an important target of many existing antibiotics (e.g. vancomycin) because integrity of the envelope is crucial to maintaining cell function.

One of the key issues in the current treatment of microbial infections is the increase of antibiotic resistance in microbial populations. Consequently the demand for new and effective antimicrobials is increasingly urgent. Allied with this demand is the need for screens like SigE that are capable of detecting new and previously undiscovered antimicrobials and which can be scaled-up for high-throughput applications, thereby ensuring rapid integration into today’s modern drug discovery programs.

Key benefits of the SigE screen:

  • Detection of cell envelope damage arising from the action of a broad range of antibiotics and lytic enzymes (using a kanamycin resistance or GFP reporter gene).
  • Specific for antimicrobials with activity against the cell envelope.
  • Simple assay with choice of end-points for detecting activity.
  • Detection of antimicrobials from a wide range of sources e.g. environmental samples, laboratory cultures.
  • Antimicrobial screening in other Streptomyces species, or Actinomycetes.

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December 2004

New Product Launched

In October 2004, PBL and Vivascience successfully launched Vivapure® C18 Micro spin columns, a revolutionary protein purification technology. The Vivapure® spin-columns are ideally suited for the concentration, purification and desalting of peptides prior to analysis.

The Vivapure® C18 technology was invented by Dr Mike Naldrett, who heads the proteomics facility at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Vivapure® spin columns help speed up research by transforming a previously laborious, time-consuming process into a quick and easy centrifuge-based procedure. They bring the following benefits:

  • Easy centrifugal procedure – avoiding repetitive pipetting steps
  • High loading capacity (up to 200 µl)
  • Direct elution with matrix possible
  • Convenient parallel processing
  • Low elution volume (3 µl)
  • Minimal hands on time
  • Highly reproducible

After filing patents to protect Dr Naldrett’s IP, our priority was to identify a development partner with the resources and expertise to turn the invention into commercial reality as quickly and efficiently as possible.

PBL were delighted to secure Vivascience as exclusive licensees for this technology and the Vivascience team have certainly delivered - only one month after the official sales launch, a growing customer base are already benefiting from the Vivapure® spin column revolution!

For more information please visit the Vivascience website.

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November 2004

PBL issued Pivotal RNAi Gene Silencing Patent

In February 1999, David Baulcombe and Andrew Hamilton of the Sainsbury Laboratory first announced their discovery that they had identified the elusive effectors of post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS).

Formally reporting these results in Science (Vol. 286, pp950-952, 1999), this seminal and since widely validated discovery has facilitated exponential developments in the fields of gene silencing and gene regulation. Now, after a successful patent prosecution process, PBL is pleased to announce that on 22 June 2004, the United States Patent Office has recognised this discovery with the issuance of US Patent No. 6,753,139 encompassing methods of detection of gene silencing in plants, and methods of isolating gene silencing effectors from plants.

A series of additional patent filings are pending in the United States directed to the effector molecules themselves, methods of detection of gene silencing in organisms generally, and to methods of inducing gene silencing. PBL is actively exploring its options for commercial recognition of this proprietary technology.

Enquiries: lars@pbltechnology.com

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November 2004

Rights to microRNA technology available from PBL

In addition PBL also has an exclusive licence from the University of South Carolina for the micro RNA technology developed by Prof Vicki Vance. The PCT patent application (WO 2004/009779 A2) has claims directed towards modulating gene expression in plants using micro RNA sequences complementary to a target sequence and plant cells containing micro RNA precursors.

PBL has received a positive examination report on this patent application and is actively seeking commercial licensing partners for the technology.

Enquiries: lars@pbltechnology.com

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September 2004

PBL's new genetic services venture commences operations

PBL is delighted to announce the establishment of IDna Genetics Limited, a joint venture between PBL and the John Innes Centre. The company is a service business offering genotyping and GMO testing services to the plant breeding industry and academia.

IDna Genetics vision is to become the leading supplier of genetic services to the seeds sector. IDna Genetics is headed up by Dr Pete Isaac, who has sixteen years experience in the plant breeding and molecular service industries in France and the UK. The IDna laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for molecular analysis including real-time PCR facilities and an ABI3730 capillary sequencer for genotyping.

Dr Jan Chojecki, PBL's Managing Director said "IDna Genetics is already taking orders from seed companies and public sector research groups and we expect its business to grow quickly. The company will also be an excellent channel to develop and exploit a whole host of new genetic technologies, tests and assays which PBL can bring to it from our public sector research partners"

IDna Genetics can be contacted on 01603 450941 or by email (mail@idnagenetics.com).

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September 2004

PBL spin-out Novacta Biosystems announces new alliance to develop Biofuels

Novacta Biosystems Limited which was established by PBL in 2002 and graduated from the Norwich BioIncubator earlier this year has announced a substantial R&D alliance with TMO Biotec.

Novacta will apply its expertise in biosynthetic pathway engineering and fermentation science to develop TMO Biotec's proprietary microbes for biofuel production. The results of this work will have a major impact upon fuel production by providing an alternative, "green" process for fuel production that has a wide geographical application. Jan Chojecki, PBL's MD said "We are delighted to see Novacta growing fast and developing exciting and valuable new business such as this alliance with TMO".

Please click here to see the press release.

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September 2004

PBL to Commercialise Resistance-Defeating Insecticides Technology from Rothamsted Research

In June 2004, PBL took assignment of three patents from Rothamsted Research (Harpenden, UK), covering a series of novel naphthoquinone-based compounds showing insecticidal activity.

The compounds were originally developed by Rothamsted researchers in a collaborative project with the University of Chile, the Agrochemical Evaluation Unit at University of Southampton, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and BTG International Ltd. Two natural compounds isolated from a Chilean mountain plant (Calceolaria andina) were found to exhibit significant levels of activity against certain insect pests, especially mites and whiteflies. A particular property of these compounds is that they do not exhibit cross-resistance to established classes of insecticides. Further work led to a series of novel synthetic analogues being developed from these plant-derived leads.

Particularly good activity has been demonstrated in laboratory bioassays and glasshouse / field tests against plant and animal insect pests such as cotton whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), spider mite (Tetranycus urticae), poultry red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) and pasture tick (Ixodes ricinus), with some of the compounds being effective against both the adult and egg stages of these insect pests. Activity has also been found against a wide range of other insect pests, including the glasshouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), peach potato aphid (Myzus persicae), cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii), black bean aphid (Aphis fabae), thrips (Thrips tabaci) and termites (Coptoterms formosanus).

The compounds can be easily manufactured via a number of alternative routes, including extraction from the native plant or related hybrids, synthesis from other plant-derived intermediates (e.g. lawsone from henna extract), synthesis from the plant-derived leads or total chemical synthesis. In addition, the natural products, or natural products manufactured by chemical synthesis, may benefit from significant advantages in terms of product registration. New synthetic analogues in the series may also be produced for improved activity against existing or new target insect pests, and their efficacy further enhanced by using appropriate product formulations.

The natural compounds, plant extracts (from Calceolaria spp.) and synthetic analogues, and their use as pesticides, are the subject of a number of worldwide granted and pending patent applications assigned to PBL, with PBL having exclusive rights to grant commercial licences for their use in plant and/or animal pest applications.

For further information, and to enquire about evaluation and/or licensing opportunities, please contact Dr Lars von Borcke (lars@pbltechnology.com).

View Available Crop Protection Technologies

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September 2004

PBL exhibiting at ABIC 2004 and also representing at the 2nd EPSO conference

Dr Adam Hajjar and Dr Lars von Borcke of PBL will be exhibiting at the ABIC 2004 conference in Cologne from 12th to 15th September 2004. Dr Lars von Borcke will also be representing PBL at the 2nd EPSO Conference in Ischia from 11th to 14th October 2004. We look forward to meeting you at either event

Please contact us on +44 1603 456500 or by email (adam@pbltechnology.com or lars@pbltechnology.com) if you would like to arrange a meeting in advance.

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July 2004

PBL marks its 10th Anniversary

PBL marked its 10th Anniversary this month with a gathering of its key stakeholders following the AGM with shareholders.

At a reception held in the Norwich BioIncubator atrium, PBL staff, Directors, shareholder representatives, inventors of many of PBL's key technologies and some of PBL's main service providers, all joined in the celebration of ten years of success and innovation in technology transfer.

PBL's Managing Director, Dr Jan Chojecki thanked all who have contributed to PBL's formation and development and in particular recognised Liz Radford (Company Secretary) and Andy Sandham (Director) who have been with the Company since its formation in 1994. They are pictured cutting PBL's specially prepared birthday cake!

Prof David Baulcombe of The Sainsbury Laboratory with Patrick Farrant of Eversheds. Prof Ian Crute, Director of Rothamsted Research, talks with Dr Adam Hajjar of PBL (left), Mr Simon Kramer of patent agents Mewburn Ellis (centre) and Dr Terry O'Neill of PBL (right). Andy Sandham cuts the PBL cake with Jan Chojecki and Liz Radford. Prof Chris Lamb, Director of John Innes Centre, with Dr Pete Isaac, CEO of Idna Genetics Ltd, the new genetics diagnostics spin-out of PBL and John Innes Centre. Prof Rod Casey and Prof Jonathan Jones with Dr Gordon Barker of PBL.

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June 2004

Plants with Enhanced Dietary Antioxidants and Pathogen Resistance

April 2004 saw another important PBL technology appear in Nature Biotechnology. Hydroxycinnamoyl transferase (HQT) is responsible for the accumulation of chlorogenic acid in plants which is a key antioxidant of significance both in plant health and, importantly, as an important dietary antioxidant.

The HQT gene has been cloned from tomato and tobacco and characterised by Dr Cathie Martin and co-workers at the John Innes Centre. Plants over-xpressing HQT have enhanced resitance to bacterial pathogens and other stress tolerance.

The work is published on-line in Nature Biotechnology 25 April 2004. Further details available from PBL - ask for Tech Id 01.275 HQT

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May 2004

Another High Impact Paper from PBL

PBL is pleased to announce the development of a new rapid gene cloning method, termed ‘Transcript Based Cloning’, that uses microarrays to rapidly identify and clone unknown genes

Transcript Based Cloning (TBC) was developed from a collaborative study between researchers at the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK) and Stanford University (California, USA). The results of the study were recently published in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Mitra, et al 2004, PNAS 101: 4701-4705). "In the process of working on nitrogen fixation, we have discovered a general method for identifying and cloning important plant genes that is fast and may be applicable to almost any plant species", explained Prof Sharon Long, who led the team at Stanford University.

Research into the molecular mechanisms underlying any biological process (for example a novel signal transduction pathway) has traditionally gone through two key time-consuming phases:

  1. the isolation of organisms with mutations in that process and
  2. the positional cloning of the genes associated with those phenotypic changes

Positional cloning can be a laborious process, even with organisms whose genomes have been fully sequenced. With organisms where only partial genome-sequences are available and in particular with those that have large and complex genomes such as crop plants, positional cloning is extremely difficult.

In contrast, TBC uses microarrays to rapidly identify and clone the genes associated with mutant alleles. "This technique could revolutionise crop research, since it makes gene cloning in these previously intractable genomes, not only feasible, but rapid" says Dr Oldroyd, who leads the research at the John Innes Centre. “We have done in four months what would have taken four years using other methods, and at a tenth of the cost.”

Please contact Gordon Barker gordon@pbltechnology.com for further information.

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April 2004

PBL announce's new equity investment into Novacta Biosystems Ltd


Investment to Advance Drug Development and expand Biotransformation Services.

March 2004, Cambridge UK - GEIF Ventures Early Growth Fund, a £2.5 million fund set up within NW Brown Group in April 2003 to co-invest alongside business angels has announced today that it has invested £100,000 into Novacta Biosystems, alongside investment from Great Eastern Investment Forum (GEIF) members, including Westgate Hall.

Based in Norwich, UK Novacta is a research-based company developing novel anti-infective drugs and providing biotransformation services. Novacta’s drug development activities are focused on natural products, small molecules produced by microorganisms, which are starting points for development of many of the drugs in widespread use today. These activities are complemented by the company’s biotransformation services that target the pharmaceutical, chemicals, cosmetic, flavour and fragrances industries. At the heart of Novacta’s technology platform is a ‘toolbox’ of approaches for harnessing the exquisite chemical selectivity of biological systems. These systems are used to develop efficient processes to synthetic targets and to manipulate the biosynthesis of natural products in order to alter activity, pharmacokinetics and other properties.

“Infectious diseases account for 25% of the deaths worldwide,” stated Dr Fiona Marston, Novacta’s CEO, “and Novacta’s drug development activities are focussed on combating this major health problem.” Marston added, “There are many factors driving the need for new products, such as drug resistance and significant side effects of current therapies, and Novacta has the team, technology and commitment to address and overcome these factors.”

Max Bautin, who manages GEIF Ventures, added, “Novacta’s biotransformation services income arises from the research team’s leading edge expertise in this scientific area. This investment will allow Novacta’s excellent management team to expand the services business, mitigating the difficulties of the current investment climate, and to continue its drug discovery programmes and novel biotransformation methods development. Novacta, GEIF’s eighth investment over the last year, is a company with the potential for improving quality of life globally, and it is particularly rewarding for GEIFV to contribute its own capital, and help channel that of angel members, to its development.”

Cambridge office of Mills & Reeve acted as GEIFV’s legal advisers on the transaction.

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January 2004

PBL wins funds to establish Technology Development Investments

PBL is delighted to announce that it has been awarded £1.8m from the UK Government's Public Sector Research Exploitation (PSRE) initiative to establish a capacity to fund selected laboratory projects to consolidate and strengthen promising new technology.

This substantial award will enable us to fund critical technical progress on ideas that have been developed with public funding, but that may have otherwise remained "on the shelf" because they were too immature for private companies to take the risk of developing them. We will, for example, be able to fund the generation of critical data to demonstrate the usefulness, versatility and robustness of a technology, which not only will enhance the chances of successful uptake by industry but also will allow for stronger and broader patent protection. PBL sees this capacity to fund highly selective technology development activity as a critical piece of the technology transfer jigsaw.

The money is part of £15 million of new funding announced on January 19th 2004 by the Department of Trade and Industry. The PSRE initiative was set up three years ago as a Government award scheme that helps public sector research establishments develop the business ideas that emerge from their science.

PBL expects to use the new funding in particular on new technologies that have either emerged at or can be developed and strengthened further at the BBSRC plant and microbial research Institutes such as the Institute of Food Research and the JIC, both in Norwich; Rothamsted Research, at Harpenden in Hertfordshire; and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth.

"BBSRC and these Institutes all strongly supported PBL's bid, for which we are grateful, and we look forward to working with these Institutes over the coming months to identify candidates for technology development", says Dr Jan Chojecki, Managing Director of PBL. "We have been successful over 10 years in building up a portfolio of technology moving towards markets but what we have not been able to do in the past is the directly-funded development of technology. Nothing is actually committed as yet and we are now welcoming candidates for investment."

More information about obtaining Technology Development funding from PBL will appear on our website shortly - but please contact us () if you have any proposals for technology that could benefit from this investment.

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January 2004

PBL Licenses IFR Technology to Profos AG

PBL has established a licence agreement granting Profos AG exclusive rights to an antimicrobial technology developed at the Institute of Food Research, Norwich.

Professor Mike Gasson from the Institute of Food Research in Norwich discovered the potential of viruses while researching flavour development in cheese in the early 1990s. PBL was engaged in 2002 to assist with the commercialisation of the technology and the management of the associated patent family. The exclusive worldwide licence to Profos marks a first step towards commercialisation, and is a mark of the strengthening technology transfer service that PBL is affording IFR.

"Viruses can infect bacteria as well as humans. A virus invades bacterial cells, multiplies and then produces an enzyme to burst the cell wall, enabling it to escape and infect more cells", says Professor Gasson. "We targeted an enzyme with this fire-power, to develop its potential in combating pathogenic bacteria." Viruses that infect bacteria are called bacteriophages. The bacteria-bursting enzymes that are encompassed by the IFR technology are called lysins. Different lysins attack specific bacteria, so could be used as a diagnostic tool as well as an antimicrobial therapy in people and animals. The bacteriophage lysins covered in the licence can be used to detect or selectively kill Listeria and Clostridium. They could even provide an alternative to antibiotics in some applications.

Rapid detection is particularly important for some of the more virulent bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria exists naturally in the soil and general environment, but in some soft mould-ripened cheeses and pâtés can be present in higher numbers. The elderly, pregnant women and babies are most vulnerable, which is why pregnant women are advised against eating soft, mould-ripened cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and blue-veined varieties.

When listeriosis takes hold, it is often severe and life-threatening. The United States government operates a zero tolerance policy of Listeria in food. But there is no other simple rapid test available for large scale use by food manufacturers.

"Listeria is the food industry's nightmare. Professor Gasson had the vision to spot the potential of using a virus to destroy it. We are delighted to partner Profos through this licence so that investigative science into a significant food safety tool to benefit the public", says Jan Chojecki, Managing Director of PBL. Profos AG develops, manufactures and distributes products for the rapid and sensitive detection and isolation of bacteria as well as molecular biology products for the biotech and pharmaceutical market.

The licence also covers lysins that destroy Clostridium. This bacteria forms hardy spores, resistant to heating and drying. In poultry, Clostridium perfringens causes necrotic enteritis, currently cured with antibiotics. In humans, Clostridium difficile causes diarrhoea in patients receiving antibiotic treatment - the bacterium seizes the opportunity to infect provided by disruption to naturally-occurring bacteria of the bowel.

"The demand for commercial alternatives to antibiotics is growing, in response to the need to tackle bacterial antibiotic resistance. As well as providing a new tool to combat bacteria now, there is interest in developing bacteriophage lysins to replace antibiotics in some applications in the future. Unlike antibiotics, this technology provides a precision tool, designed to kill specific bacteria while leaving other micro-orgamisms intact", says Professor Gasson.

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