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Better Proteomics Through Chemistry

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According to Rob Hillman, CEO of ActivX Biosciences, the ability — and technology — to find low-abundance proteins “is an art.”

Enter the artist, David Campbell, in the new position of vice president of chemistry. Campbell, 42, began his career in biotech but until 1999 couldn’t find the link between the new biology and his own specialty, chemistry. Ruedi Aebersold’s paper on ICAT technology changed Campbell’s outlook. “For the first time, I saw a role for chemistry in proteomics,” he recalls.

After working at Affymax and Bayer, Campbell sought the startup environment. “[I was] still attracted to the energy level and creativity you find in a biotech company

,” he says. So, late this May, he headed to ActivX to work on proteomics.The artistic flair is in his different approach for finding and analyzing proteins. “Up till now, proteomics has primarily been a 2D gel-driven endeavor,” Campbell says. “That’s what you’re going to see the major players doing.”

But that’s not what ActivX will be doing. The company’s goal is to design probes to recognize families of proteins. “The activity probes irreversibly bind to members of that protein family,” Campbell explains. The method provides higher sensitivity than the 2D-gel counterpart, making it easier to detect and study low-abundance proteins. According to Hillman, knowing the protein family automatically gives useful information about the protein’s activity and which pathway it’s in.

So far, it doesn’t look like the industry’s ready to give up its 2D vision. But the folks at ActivX support their chemistry approach as well as the chemist leading it. “It’s pretty special to have someone like Dave with a strong chemistry background but a real appreciation for and understanding of the biology,” Hillman says.

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