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Mirus provides low-cost way to modify genes

Madison, Wis. - Genetically engineered mice are very expensive for researchers, but one Madison-based company has developed a method for producing similarly modified animals at a much lower cost.

Mirus Bio Corp., a privately-held biopharmaceutical firm, has developed a way to bypass the conventional hurdles associated with producing modified mice at the embryonic stage by changing the genes of adult animals instead.

Mirus has begun using its specialized DNA and RNA injection technology, first patented in 1996, to introduce a type of nucleic acid known as small interfering RNA to liver cells of mature mice to suppress targeted gene activity.

These modified mice, known as knockout mice, can enable researchers to decipher the function of genes by studying the biological and physiological impact of a change in gene expression, which is useful in identification of new therapeutic drug targets.

Defying convention
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With a conventional approach, the process of manipulating mouse embryos and breeding a strain of such animals can cost up to $150,000 and require up to a year of labor-intensive work.

But the new approach takes a fraction of the cost and time, and scientists can make genetic changes that would kill the mouse if performed at the embryonic stage, according to Richard Schifreen, VP of research products for Mirus.

"This [new approach] can be done in a matter of weeks," Schifreen said.

The specialized technique, which is described in an issue of the journal Nucleic Acids Research, will be developed into a product for licensing and service contracts.

"We want to be flexible, and we want to work with different companies to do what makes most sense," Schifreen said.

Researchers studying metabolic diseases, toxicology, and liver cancer could be among the first customers for this product as a replacement technology for producing knockout mice. In addition, the market for animal models to facilitate drug discovery is in the multi-million dollar range.

"We're looking at this as a major business initiative," Schifreen said. "We think this is going to be a significant financial driver for Mirus over the next several years."

Rose joins Mirus

In a related matter, Mirus Bio announced the appointment of Scott A. Rose to vice president of finance and administration. Rose brings to Mirus more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing and high-technology companies.

His career includes stints as CEO and CFO of Wisconsin Porcelain Co., a venture-backed manufacturer of industrial ceramics. He also has served in accounting and information management capacities with Heurikon Corp., a maker of single-board computers, and in financial roles with Dungarvin, Inc. and Snap-On Tools Corp.

Rose, a certified public accountant in product and inventory management, earned an MBA with a specialization in information systems from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He succeeds the retired Joseph Williams.

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