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NIH Awards Phylonix Phase II SBIR to Develop Zebrafish Apoptosis Drug Screening Assays

Cambridge, MA (June 2, 2004) - Phylonix today announced that it had recently received a Phase II Small Business Innovation Grant (SBIR) from the National Cancer Institute to develop zebrafish apoptosis assays for drug screening. The amount of the award is $993,463.

Apoptosis is the genetically programmed process of precise, predictable cell suicide. It occurs as a normal physiological process for removing unnecessary cells throughout the life of an organism. Inappropriate apoptosis has been shown to be the cause of many diseases. Development of agents that modulate apoptosis is a major focus of biopharmaceutical research. The ability to manipulate apoptosis could permit therapeutic intervention in: cancer, heart disease, stroke, AIDS, autoimmunity, and degenerative diseases.

“Apoptotic cells in live, transparent zebrafish can be visualized by acridine orange staining without complicated processing. At Phylonix, we are also developing a quantitative, vital dye assay for high throughput screening using an automated liquid handling workstation and a microplate reader”, Chuenlei Parng, Ph.D, the Principal Investigator for this research, said.

Conventional cell-based assays evaluate the potential effects of drugs in culture, but cannot assess the complex metabolism that affects actual drug efficacy or causes toxicity in animals and humans. Therefore, many drugs that appear effective in cell-based assays fail in subsequent, costly animal testing. To streamline the drug development time-line, prioritize drug candidates for animal testing, and reduce unnecessary costs for mammalian studies, we are developing a family of drug screening assays using the small vertebrate zebrafish. This convenient animal model will serve as an intermediate step between cell-based evaluation and animal testing for drug evaluation.

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