San Diego Business Journal

A GT Life Sciences Inc. executive sees great potential unfolding from the work of its research partner in China, which completed for the first time the sequencing of the Chinese hamster ovary, or CHO, genome. The collaborators believe this event will provide useful information that could potentially cut the costs of producing therapeutic proteins.

GT Life Sciences, a privately held San Diego biotechnology company founded in 2007 that focuses on cellular metabolism, said earlier this month that scientists at BGI (formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute) conducted the project by using the local company’s “proven metabolic modeling and experimental platform.”

“BGI is probably doing the most extensive sequencing around the world,” said Iman Famili, senior director of GT Life Sciences. “They’re doing a lot of pioneering work.”

Famili said staff members at GT Life Sciences isolated the DNA samples used for the project, and the sequencing work was done by BGI.

She said CHO cell lines are mammalian cells that are used widely today in biological research and in the production of therapeutic proteins. At least 70 percent of all therapeutic proteins are produced in CHO cells, said Famili, adding the cells are easy to manipulate and not contaminated by viruses.

“Therapeutic proteins are essentially drugs being used for a lot of purposes, mostly cancer,” said Famili.

GT Life Sciences estimates the worldwide market for therapeutic proteins totals approximately $100 billion. Its parent company is Genomatica Inc., a San Diego-based “green” chemicals company. The two firms collectively employ more than 80 researchers and engineers in biology, molecular biology, enzymology, analytical chemistry, microbial fermentation and process design, computational modeling, bioinformatics and software design.

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Genetics Merging With Medical Care: Advances in genomic medicine are expected to accelerate most notably in five key areas in 2011, following a year when the field made great strides.

That’s the opinion of Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego. Topol says he expects momentum to continue in 2011 in the areas of prescription medications, cancer, diabetes, physician education and personal gene tests.

In terms of physician education, only about 10 percent of America’s doctors believe they have enough knowledge of genetics to use it in their medical practice, according to a national study cited by Topol. Yet the vast majority of patients indicate their doctors are the ones they trust with their genomic data. Addressing this paradox will be the focus of the College of Genomic Medicine when it launches in 2011, said Topol. The college, which is being developed with a $600,000 grant to Scripps, will be a free online physician training and accreditation program.

And despite being castigated by the medical community and government regulators for their inability to accurately predict disease risk, consumer gene tests will continue to offer important benefits to patients in the future, said Topol.

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Trade Group Addresses Commercialization: Understanding the ins and outs of global markets and reimbursement is the focus of a Feb. 8 program sponsored by Biocom, the trade association representing 550 life sciences companies in San Diego.

According to Biocom’s Market Access and Reimbursement Committee, all too often manufacturers of drugs, devices or diagnostic tests fail to adequately understand and address the market access and reimbursement needs of the marketplace and fail to leverage the value and optimize the commercial success of their products.

Speakers at the program are Bruce Quinn, a senior health policy specialist for the law firm of Foley, Hoag LLP, and Michael Pollock, president of Reynolds Pollock & Associates, a health outcomes and market access strategy consulting company. The program runs from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Biocom boardroom, 4510 Executive Drive, Plaza Seven.

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Topical Treatment Gains Favor With Urologists: A San Diego biotech firm named Apricus Biosciences said it has won approval for a topical cream to treat erectile dysfunction from Health Canada, the Canadian version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a recent press announcement.

Apricus is touting a poll of urologists predicting that they would switch nearly 30 percent of their E.D. patients to this product because many men cannot take Viagra, Cialis, and other drugs due to heart disease, diabetes or their lack of effectiveness.

Approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected in 2011.

Other topical creams in the Apricus pipeline are for diabetes and immune disorders.

Send biotech news of general interest to Steve Sinovic via e-mail at He can be reached at 858-277-6897.