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Archive - Nov 13, 2018


2018 Lasker-Debakey Clinical Medical Research Award Given to John Glen for Scottish Veterinarian’s Discovery & Development of Propofol, a Widely Used Anesthetic

The 2018 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors John B. (Iain) Glen (retired from AstraZeneca), a Scottish veterinarian who discovered and developed propofol, a chemical whose rapid action and freedom from residual effects have made it the most widely used agent for induction of anesthesia in patients throughout the world. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed propofol an “essential medicine” and at the time of that decision, more than 190 million people had received the drug. In 1972, Dr. Glen joined Imperial Chemistry Industries (ICI; through mergers, ICI eventually became AstraZeneca) to help find new short-acting intravenous anesthetics. Eventually he took charge of the enterprise. The type of drug he sought—an induction agent—is used to sedate people so they can then tolerate inhaled anesthetics that maintain unconsciousness for long procedures. Administration of these gases through a mask can cause discomfort, and some of them can provoke an initial feeling of suffocation. The gold standard induction agent at the time was called thiopentone, which induced anesthesia quickly, but had limitations. Most prominent among them is that it builds up in the body, so repeated use during surgery would cause patients to remain unconscious long afterward. Dr. Glen’s team wanted to find a medication that possesses the anesthetic power of thiopentone, but allows rapid recovery. In addition to serving as a new induction agent, such a drug might maintain sedation and thus provide an injected alternative to inhaled anesthetics. The group also aimed to reduce common unpleasant after-effects of anesthesia such as nausea and vomiting.

European Society for Medical Oncology Will Give 2018 Immuno-Oncology Award to Cornelis Melief for Development of New Therapeutic Cancer Vaccine Strategies

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) ( has selected Professor Cornelis Melief to receive the 2018 ESMO Immuno-Oncology Award ( in recognition of his life's work in studying the interactions of the immune system with cancer. The distinction will be officially presented to him at the opening keynote and award lecture of this year's ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress in Geneva, Switzerland (13-16 December) ( Professors George Coukos and John Haanen, Scientific Co-Chairs of the upcoming Congress (, commented on the reasons for this nomination: "Professor Melief dedicated his career to understanding how the immune system, specifically cytotoxic lymphocytes, interact with cancer, and used this knowledge for the development of new therapeutic cancer vaccine strategies," said Professor Coukos. After studying virally induced cancer in mice, he is currently involved in clinical trials with synthetic vaccines for the treatment of head and neck, as well as cervical cancer, associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV). "With this award we are recognizing him as a true pioneer in the field of cancer immunology, who has trained and inspired a whole generation of young scientists with his research," Professor Haanen added.

DNA Script Announces World's First Enzymatic Synthesis of a High-Purity 150-Nucleotide Strand of DNA; Results Outpace Historical Trend for Phosphoramidite Chemistry

On October 2, 2018, DNA Script, which describes itself as "the global leader in the development of enzymatic DNA synthesis," announced that it has successfully synthesized the world's first 150-nucleotide (nt) strand of DNA by de novo enzymatic synthesis. DNA Script's enzymatic approach reaches up to 99.5 percent efficacy for each nucleotide added, achieving parity with traditional chemical synthesis. DNA Script shared these results during a presentation at SynBioBeta 2018 ( — the premier conference for synthetic biology, held in San Francisco. "The technology developed by DNA Script is now on par with the performance of current commercial solutions done with the aid of phosphoramidite reagents. DNA Script is the first organization — commercial or academic — to demonstrate the feasibility of enzymatic DNA synthesis, proving the incredible potential of this nascent technology. In May, we announced a world-first with the enzymatic synthesis of a 50-nt strand of DNA, and we have been able to triple our performance in just four months. By 2019, we expect to be able to synthesize DNA strands several hundred nucleotides in length. The speed at which our enzymatic synthesis technique has progressed — from a single incorporation to 150 nt in just four years — significantly outperforms the historical trend for phosphoramidite chemistry." said Thomas Ybert, PhD, CEO, and Co-Founder of DNA Script. In the experiments routinely run by the R&D team at DNA Script, sequences of the four natural nucleotides are randomly generated in silico and then automatically synthesized in vitro on the hardware platform developed by the company, without any physical template. Dr. Ybert added: "This is only the beginning. Our goal is now to go way beyond chemistry.

DNA Script, Enzymatic DNA Synthesis Company, Creates US Subsidiary & Expands Executive Team in US

On November 8, 2018, DNA Script, which describes itself as "the global leader in the development of enzymatic DNA synthesis," announced the creation of DNA Script Inc., its US subsidiary. The company also announced the expansion of its executive team in the US. Dr. Jeffrey Jeddeloh was appointed VP of Business Development and Commercial Strategy to facilitate partnering and strategy implementation. Dr. Stephen Macevicz was named VP of Intellectual Property. The appointment of Dr. Christine Peponnet as VP of Technology Development will strengthen the company's growing research and development organization. "Last month, we announced a major technology milestone for the nascent field of enzymatic DNA synthesis: the world's first synthesis of a 150-nucleotide (nt) strand of DNA using enzymes with up to 99.5 percent efficacy for each nucleotide added — achieving parity with traditional chemical synthesis," said Thomas Ybert, PhD, CEO, and Co-Founder of DNA Script. "In the last year, the company has increased secured financing to $27 million, was granted two patents, filed five new patent applications, and grew its team to 35. This is only a beginning, as we intend to release the first commercial products to early adopters within 12 months. Given the importance of the US market for DNA Script, crossing the ocean and structuring our executive team with industry veterans is absolutely key." Dr. Jeddeloh, 49, joins DNA Script as VP of Business Development and Commercial Strategy, bringing more than 20 years of experience commercializing technology and business leadership in the genomics and molecular biology tools space. He joined Roche after the NimbleGen Systems acquisition in 2007.

2018 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research Goes to Grunstein & Allis for Discovering How Gene Expression Is Influenced by Histone Modification

The 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors two scientists for discoveries that have elucidated how gene expression is influenced by chemical modification of histones, the proteins that package DNA within chromosomes. This prestigious award, often a prelude to the NobelPrize, was announced on September 11, 2018. Through tour-de-force genetic studies in yeast, Michael Grunstein (University of California, Los Angeles) demonstrated that histones dramatically influence gene activity within living cells and laid the groundwork for understanding the pivotal role of particular amino acids in this process. C. David Allis (Rockefeller University) uncovered an enzyme that attaches a specific chemical group to a particular amino acid in histones, and this histone-modifying enzyme turned out to be an established gene co-activator whose biochemical capabilities had eluded researchers. Grunstein and Allis unveiled a previously hidden layer of gene control and broke open a new field. In the late 1800s, Albrecht Kossel discovered proteins called histones in goose blood cells. These abundant proteins, he showed, associate with nucleic acid to form a conglomerate called chromatin. Until the 1940s, many scientists thought that histones, not DNA, constituted the inherited material in eukaryotes, organisms whose cells contain nuclei. By the 1960s, however, DNA had stolen the genetic-code limelight. Still, histones were plentiful and their partnership with the all-important genes intrigued investigators. Perhaps, evidence suggested, the proteins stifle the production of RNA from DNA, a process called transcription. In this view, stripping histones from eukaryotic DNA would allow the molecular apparatus that synthesizes RNA to adhere to its template and do its job.