Science  16 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5755, pp. 1751

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  1. Flu Defenses Bolstered

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A single company has obtained the rights to a vaccine-producing technology that may prove crucial in a fight against pandemic influenza and insists it will make it widely available in an emergency. And U.S. officials have revised a vaccine policy to stretch supplies.

    MedImmune in Gaithersburg, Maryland, announced last week that it has licensed patents for so-called reverse genetics from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. The company already had rights to other patents for the technology. Reverse genetics makes possible the production of seed vaccine faster and more safely than the traditional means of making seed vaccine in eggs. If MedImmune waives licensing fees for developing countries during a pandemic, as it has pledged, “there should be no downside,” says infectious disease expert Andrew Pavia of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

    Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said last month that the agency will not require that a pandemic flu vaccine containing an immuneresponse-boosting additive called an adjuvant go through a trial testing its efficacy at preventing infection. Instead, FDA will require only evidence of safety and an immune response to license such a vaccine. That could stretch scarce vaccine supplies in a pandemic. “It is very important that FDA has clarified its position,” says Pavia. The United States is currently conducting clinical trials of vaccines with an adjuvant against the deadly H5N1 avian influenza strain that has killed more than 70 people.

  2. NIH to Draw Cancer Map

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    An ambitious effort to systematically find the main genetic changes in all human cancers officially got under way this week. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Director Francis Collins compared the effort to tackling “thousands of genome projects.” The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) will begin with a 3-year pilot project of $100 million in grants from the National Cancer Institute and NHGRI. Some have criticized the project as potentially futile, siphoning funds from investigator-initiated grants (Science, 9 December, p. 1615). To address those concerns, TCGA, previously known as the Human Cancer Genome Project, will start with just two or three tumor types and attempt to demonstrate reproducibility and clinically relevant results.

  3. Break the Ice, Coast Guard

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    A White House decision earlier this year to transfer responsibility for the U.S. icebreaking fleet from the Coast Guard to the National Science Foundation (NSF) is a bad idea. So says a National Academies' panel in an interim report released this week.

    The report takes issue with the Administration's assertion that icebreaking no longer fits into the Coast Guard's mission, noting that climate change in the Arctic, for example, could bring more people to the region, adding to the Coast Guard's duties. The report also argues that NSF, as a research agency, is not equipped to manage the three icebreakers in the U.S. fleet despite its primary use in supporting scientific activity at both poles. The recommendations cover the next 4 to 8 years; a final report next summer will explore long-term options for the fleet.

  4. GM Protest Upheld

    1. Martin Enserink

    In a verdict last week that could undermine French agricultural biotechnology, a court in Orleans, France, acquitted 49 activists who had destroyed experimental plots planted with genetically modified (GM) maize developed by Monsanto.

    The defendants had been charged with organized vandalism after ravaging two test sites near Orleans in August 2004 and July 2005. But the court agreed with their argument that the “imminent danger” of contamination of nearby crops justified the offense. In a related civil complaint, the court ordered the defendants to collectively pay $7000 in damages to Monsanto, instead of $470,000 as demanded by the company.

    Environmentalists hailed the decision, but the prosecutor and Monsanto intend to appeal. “We are outraged that the court does not enforce the law,” says Philippe Pouletty, chair of trade lobby France Biotech.

  5. Bidders Vie for Superarray

    1. Robert Koenig

    Competition is heating up for the $1 billion Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope project. Australia sent its bid this week; South Africa, China, and Argentina are due to submit before the 31 December deadline.

    With possibly hundreds of dishes spread over a vast region, SKA will provide an unprecedented look at early galaxy formation and the nature of dark matter and dark energy. A preliminary ranking of the competing bids is expected next year, followed by a hunt for funding.