Connect with us

Government

Neuroscientist Huda Akil, Ph.D., wins National Medal of Science

She has explored the brain’s secrets for more than 50 years, delving deep into the genes, proteins and cells that help govern our emotions and moods,…

Published

on

She has explored the brain’s secrets for more than 50 years, delving deep into the genes, proteins and cells that help govern our emotions and moods, and our responses to pleasure and pain. Huda Akil, Ph.D.

Credit: University of Michigan

She has explored the brain’s secrets for more than 50 years, delving deep into the genes, proteins and cells that help govern our emotions and moods, and our responses to pleasure and pain. And today, Huda Akil, Ph.D., received the nation’s highest scientific honor – the National Medal of Science — for those contributions and their impact on humankind’s understanding of depression, anxiety, addiction and more. Akil, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan Medical School and Michigan Neuroscience Institute, and her fellow awardees were honored at the White House in a ceremony with President Joe Biden. She is the eighth member of the U-M faculty to receive the medal. “I am deeply honored, humbled and grateful,” said Akil, who is the Gardner C. Quarton Distinguished University Professor of Neurosciences in the U-M Department of Psychiatry and a research professor at MNI. “I’m especially grateful for all the opportunities the United States has given me to be a scientist and make contributions to our understanding of the brain.” Akil’s road to the award began in Syria, where she was born, and Lebanon, where she discovered her passion for understanding the brain’s mysteries as an undergraduate majoring in psychology. She came to the United States 55 years ago for graduate studies, and has spent 45 years at U-M building a wide-ranging research program with her scientific partner and husband Stanley Watson, M.D., Ph.D., who is the Ralph Waldo Gerard Professor of Neurosciences and professor of psychiatry in the Medical School, and a research professor at MNI. Together, they led what is now called MNI for more than 25 years and oversaw the research and training of hundreds of young neuroscientists, who came to be known as “Wakils.” Many of them now lead research programs of their own in universities worldwide. Akil’s early work focused on understanding the brain’s own “natural painkillers” — called endogenous opioids — and how they interact with receptors on the surface of brain cells. Her team’s discoveries about these molecules and receptors laid the groundwork for many other scientists’ work to this day. From there, Akil’s research grew into an exploration of the impacts of stress on the brain at the molecular level, and the genetic and cellular differences that may make someone more or less vulnerable to developing depression, anxiety or substance use disorders including opioid addiction. Taken together, Akil says she believes the findings made by her team should give a message of hope about mental health. “Mood and addictive disorders are a huge challenge in today’s society, but we are making great progress in understanding their causes and devising new strategies for treating them,” she said. “I am especially passionate about finding ways to prevent these illnesses before they take significant hold, and I hope to use whatever capabilities I have to make a difference on this front. I believe it can be done.” In addition to her scientific achievements and leadership roles at U-M, Akil has been a scientific leader nationally, including terms as president of the Society for Neuroscience and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and service on the advisory committee to the director of the National Institutes of Health. She has won many honors, including election to both the Institute of Medicine, now called the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science  and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Alone or together with Watson, she has won numerous other prizes and honors. As a result of the growing body of scientific knowledge about the biological roots of human behavior and mental health conditions, Akil says society’s attitudes have begun to change. “The stigma associated with disorders such as depression, anxiety and addiction to opioids and other drugs continues to be a major challenge. But we have made significant progress in framing these disorders in biomedical terms and addressing them using scientific, evidence-based approaches,” she said. “I think the public has embraced the idea that these disorders are the result of both biological predisposition and environmental factors. But that does not make them any less painful, often devastating and even deadly,” she added. With policymakers at every level now focused on the rising rates and impacts of mental health conditions, the crisis of overdose deaths, and the need for more evidence-based care, she says now is the time for scientists to engage publicly. “Science needs to partner with every facet of society, locally, nationally, and globally to fight these illnesses with every tool we have, while continuing to advance our knowledge and develop new strategies for better prevention and treatment.” In addition to her husband, and her parents who nurtured her curiosity, Akil credited the key role of her research mentors John Liebeskind, Jack Barchas and Bernard Agranoff, and U-M as her scientific home. She also noted that she and Watson have even had the chance to collaborate scientifically with their children, who have both developed careers in medicine and neuroscience of their own. About the National Medal of Science: Established in 1959 by the U.S. Congress, the National Medal of Science is the highest recognition the nation can bestow on scientists and engineers. The presidential award is given to individuals deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, or social and behavioral sciences, in service to the Nation. These broad areas include such disciplines as astronomy, chemistry, computer and information science and engineering, geoscience, materials research, and research on STEM education. The NMS Program is managed by the National Science Foundation. The last time the Medal of Science was awarded was in 2016, for laureates selected in 2012 and 2014. Also presented today were the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Two other U-M Medical School faculty, both now deceased, have won the National Medal of Science: neuroanatomist Elizabeth Crosby, Ph.D. and geneticist James Neel, Ph.D. Current U-M faculty member Hyman Bass, Ph.D., won for mathematics research in 2012, and emeritus professor Robert Axelrod, Ph.D., won for political science and public policy research in 2014. Late U-M faculty members Horace Richard Crane, Ph.D., Donald Katz, Ph.D., and Emmett Leith, Ph.D. won for contributions in physics and engineering.

Read More

Continue Reading

Government

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

Published

on

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

Read More

Continue Reading

International

Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

Published

on

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

Read More

Continue Reading

International

Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

Published

on

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


Read More

Continue Reading

Trending