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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

$100M in Research Funds Goes to Two S.D. Groups

Two San Diego-based research groups will receive roughly one-third of the $300 million in total government grant money to unravel the secrets of disease-causing proteins, said the National Institutes of Health.

Closely held biotechnology firm Structural GenomiX, Inc. will administer a $48.5 million NIH award. La Jolla’s Scripps Research Institute will administer an additional $52.7 million NIH grant, as the agency enters the second phase of a national effort to find three-dimensional shapes of all types of proteins.

Understanding protein structures is key for scientists trying to identify new drug targets to comparing structures between normal and diseased tissues, among others.

During the first phase, which started in 2000, scientists developed new tools and methods to speed up the process of generating protein structures.

The second phase, announced July 1, will build on that information with 10 centers using computer models to rapidly determine thousands of protein structures.

“The PSI (Protein Structure Initiative) has transformed protein structure determination into a highly automated process, making it possible to go from a selected target to a completed structure much more rapidly than before,” said Jeremy M. Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the NIH. “Building on these achievements, the new centers will take the PSI to the next level, yielding large numbers of structures and tackling significant new challenges.”

Structural GenomiX and the Scripps Research Institute are two of four large centers, created during the pilot phase, that are expected to produce between 3,000 and 4,000 structures.

The other six centers will focus on developing methods for handling the more difficult proteins, the NIH said.

Scripps has reported solving about 100 structures a year and expects that number to “increase significantly.”

Scientists at the Scripps’ Joint Center for Structural Genomics , a consortium of laboratories in La Jolla and Palo Alto created five years ago , have already adopted new methods and technologies into a robotic pipeline for making proteins and determining structures, said John Norvell, Scripps’ director of the Protein Structure Initiative.

“The researchers also will aim to tackle more challenging structures, such as large protein assemblies, proteins from eukaryotic organisms and membrane proteins, all of which have traditionally been difficult to solve,” Norvell said.

Similarly, Structural GenomiX will collaborate with scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Columbia University and UC San Francisco.

Dr. Stephen Burley, Structural GenomiX’s chief scientific officer, created the New York Structural Genomics Research Consortium in 2000 while at Rockefeller University. He joined Structural GenomiX in 2002.

The NIH gave Burley the green light to continue to lead the overall research effort.

Structural GenomiX said it will retain about 50 percent of the grant money and distribute the rest to its collaborators.

For information about PSI, go to www.nigms.nih.gov/psi/.

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New To The Microcap Index:

Two San Diego-based biotechnology companies, Adventrx Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Avanir Pharmaceuticals, said this month that they have been added to the new Russell Microcap Index, part of the Russell Investment Group.

The Russell Microcap Index measures the performance of the microcap segment, representing less than 3 percent of the U.S. equity market, including the smallest 1,000 securities in the small-cap Russell 2000 Index.

Adventrx, traded on the American Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol ANX, joined the equity index July 5.

The company’s stock closed at $2.27 on July 5.

Avanir Pharmaceuticals, traded on the American Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol AVN, also reported joining Russell’s family of U.S. equity indexes July 5.

Avanir has been added to the Russell 3000, 2000 and Microcap indexes.

The Russell 3000 includes about 3,000 stocks at any one time.

The Russell 2000 measures the performance of the 2,000 smallest firms in the Russell 3000 Index.

Avanir’s stock closed at $2.94 on July 5.

Contact Marion Webb at marionw@sdbj.com or call her at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3108.


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