Monday, June 27, 2011

Virginia Student to Compete in International BioGENEius Challenge in D.C.

Riley Ennis of Fairfax County, Virginia, was named one of the ten finalists of the 2011 U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge. The Virginia, U.S. National and International BioGENEius Challenges are competitions for high school students who demonstrate an exemplary understanding of biotechnology through science research projects. The ten U.S. National finalists will join students June 27th from Canada and Australia to compete in the International BioGENEius Challenge at the 2011 BIO International Convention in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Ennis, aged 17, is a recent graduate of Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. His winning presentation was titled, “Cancer Immunotherapy Research Vaccine: Mannose Glycoprotein Encapsulated PLGA Fluorescent Nanoparticles Biotinylated for Conjuga.

Following the announcement of his selection by the judges at the awards banquet at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on Sunday night, Mr. Ennis said, “As an international finalist for the BioGENEius Challenge, I am so honored to be part of the competition; surrounded by amazing students all with the same passion as me. I would like to thank the Virginia Biotechnology Association and the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation for their incredible help and support. Hopefully in the next few years, cancer vaccines will be at the forefront of cancer therapeutics; and it is at competitions like the BioGENEius Challenge where ideas become reality.”

Mr. Ennis was one of three outstanding students who won the 2011 Virginia BioGENEius Challenge, co-sponsored by the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation (C-BEF) and the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO). "I know I can speak for the entire bioscience community in Virginia when I commend Riley for his achievement," said Mark A. Herzog, VABIO executive director. “Virginia had an outstanding group competing for the national title and we are very pleased that Riley Ennis will be representing Virginia and the United States at the International Competition.”

“Two years ago, I couldn't have imagined arriving at the point of being selected as a U.S. National Finalist and now a competitor in the International BioGENEius Challenge in Washington DC,” continued Mr. Ennis. “I have developed an innovative cancer vaccine that harnesses the innate abilities of the human body in order to battle cancer, without deleterious side effects or invasive procedures. I was able to take my project to the next level of pharmaceutical relevance with the help of experts in the biotechnology field, who helped me file for a provisional patent, and start RC Molecular Innovations: a biotechnology company focused on the development of this vaccine platform technology.”

“We are so proud of Riley, Prasannappa and Venkatesan,” said Dr. Martin Chapman, chairman of C-BEF and president of Indoor Biotechnologies in Charlottesville, Virginia. “All three of the winners of the Virginia BioGENEius Challenge who competed for the U.S. National title are outstanding students and will be a credit to the industry in the days ahead.”

Also competing in the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge from Virginia were:

  • Prasannappa Rithvik, Age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County: “Investigating wingless-mediated signaling in class specific dendrite morphogenesis.”
  • Venkatesan Radha, Age 14, York High School, York County: “Study of over expression of C-MET Receptor Tyrosine Kinase signaling in liver cancer.”

The International BioGENEius Challenge competition will be held June 27, at the 2011 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention in Washington, D.C. The BIO International Convention is the largest global event for the biotechnology industry attracting approximately 15,000 attendees each year. The convention attracts the biggest names in biotech, offers key networking and partnering opportunities and provides insights and inspiration on the major trends affecting the industry. Winners of the competition will be announced at the June 28th keynote luncheon session featuring Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The panel of judges will include scientists, researchers, educators and key members of the biotechnology industry and academia. Judges will select the top four winners from 14 U.S. National, Western Australia, and Canada finalists. The first place winner of the BioGENEius Challenge will receive $7,500; second place will receive $5,000; third place will receive $2,500 and fourth place will receive $1,000. Each remaining participant will receive an honorable mention award and $500.

At the Local, U.S. National and International competitions, students are evaluated on the quality of their research and display, as well as on their responses to questions relating to their scientific knowledge and potential commercial applications of their research.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Biotech breakthrough: Industry emerging in Central Va.

They research the drugs and machines that are in your future to diagnose ailments, cure ills, ease your pain and reattach your limbs.

They are the increasing number of biomedical companies being created, researched, financed and grown in Central Virginia, many an offshoot of research and development being conducted in laboratories of the University of Virginia.

About 15 percent of Virginia’s estimated biomedical/technology companies reside in the Charlottesville area and the segment of the region’s economy is slowly growing to become an important community asset area officials say.

Click here to read the complete article by Bryan McKenzie in The Daily Progress.

Business Rx: Tau Therapeutics

Tau Therapeutics article in The Washington Post today.

Andrew Krouse was working at the University of Virginia when he learned about a revolutionary technology his neighbor, a professor of medicine, was developing that could be the key to cancer treatment. Not long after, Krouse joined the team and is now president and chief executive of Tau Therapeutics, a life-sciences company based in Charlottesville that is developing a nontoxic pill it believes can stop cancer and block the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

The pitch


“Our clinical priority for the technology we licensed from U-Va. is a program we call Interlaced Therapy. It promises to significantly enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy in a number of serious cancers. It works by halting the dividing cancer cells so that standard chemotherapies are more powerful. We have patented and received orphan drug designation on a drug that was on the market for hypertension and are repositioning this drug for the treatment of cancer. By taking our nontoxic drug in a sequential combination with a standard chemotherapy, we hope to minimize chemotherapy’s terrible side effects and greatly enhance the effectiveness of these therapies. There’s also the potential to overcome drug resistance.

Click here to read the complete article in The Washington Post.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Paul B. Ferrara, pioneer of DNA use, dies at 68

Paul B. Ferrara, 68, the former head of Virginia's forensic-science laboratory who helped pioneer the use of DNA as a crime-fighting tool in the U.S., died Monday.

His wife, Dale Lynn Ferrara, said Tuesday that her husband died of complications of cancer Monday morning at their home in Chesterfield County. She said funeral and other arrangements have not yet been set.

Mr. Ferrara retired at the end of 2006 after 21 years as director of the state Department of Forensic Science, where he was credited with recognizing the forensic potential of DNA and then winning the resources to exploit it.

He began his career in 1971 and held doctoral degrees from Syracuse University and the State University of New York. He was a distinguished professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

A high point in his career began in the mid-1980s when he and others at his lab learned about a new tool then called "genetic fingerprinting." In a 2006 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mr. Ferrara said they realized, "My God, we have to implement this.'"

"We just knew intuitively … that it's going to change the way police conduct investigations, collect evidence, how prosecutors and defense attorneys are going to approach their cases," he said.

In September 1987, a private New York laboratory, Lifecodes, offered to train two of Mr. Ferrara's scientists so Virginia could establish the first state DNA laboratory in the country.

Mr. Ferrara fought for roughly $300,000 from the state and, in March 1989, Virginia opened the first state DNA laboratory capable of performing DNA fingerprinting. The FBI had started its limited DNA laboratory operations just four months earlier.

That same year the state forensics laboratory also became the first to create a DNA database of previously convicted sex offenders. In 1992, the state became a pilot state for a national DNA databank.

A "cold hit," or match, from the state databank resulted in a first conviction in 1994. The laboratory's work, in addition to catching many criminals, has also cleared people wrongly convicted of crimes.

"I don't know a single person that does not think highly of Paul. That's something to say," said Peter Marone, the current director of the department.

Mr. Ferrara hired Marone as a forensic serologist in 1978. An independent agency and not a part of law enforcement, the forensic laboratory went through several iterations before becoming a department six years ago.

Marone said that in addition to his forensic-science accomplishments, Mr. Ferrara established strong working relationships with the General Assembly and with all the different gubernatorial administrations over the years.

"He never promised pie in the sky. It was always, 'You give us this — we can do that,'" Marone said.

The career of Dr. Marcella Fierro, who retired as the state medical examiner in 2008, overlapped that of Mr. Ferrara's.

"Paul made Virginia a better, safer place to live by leading and directing a laboratory whose work protected the innocent as well as convicting the guilty. I am saddened to hear the news. We had lunch a few weeks ago, and he looked so well," she said.

Fierro said Mr. Ferrara built the premier state forensic lab in the country. "It had innumerable firsts, all of which required considerable leadership when you have to persuade people to do something that has not been done before," she said.

"I used to admire him incredibly because he would get money and staff. I could try for here and hereafter and not get any," Fierro said.

"And," she said, "He's a nice guy."

Peter Neufeld, a cofounder of the Innocence Project, in New York, said of Mr. Ferrara, "He preached the gospel of DNA, both to convict and exonerate with extraordinary exuberance and the criminal justice system will be indebted for that contribution."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Ferrara's survivors include three sons, Mark S. Ferrara of Oneonta, N.Y., Paul G. Ferrara of Des Moines, Iowa, and Anthony D. Ferrara of Richmond; two brothers, Richard Ferrara of Davie, Fla., and James Ferrara of San Francisco; a sister, Mary Wyatt of The Villages, Fla.; and a grandson.

By Frank Green
Richmond Times-Dispatch