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FEATURE: Oxford Glycosciences Reasserts Proteomics Prowess

PARIS, Sept 20 – Over the past few months analysts and experts have been scratching their heads, wondering if leading proteomics company Oxford Glycosciences (LSE: OGS) was losing its edge.

The company appeared to have a poor business plan, a weak drug development pipeline, and little response as companies such as Celera Genomics (NYSE: CRA) and Swiss start-up Geneva Proteomics announced their intentions to dominate the proteomics space.

But a handful of recent announcements indicate that the Oxford, UK-based company is as committed as ever to maintaining its foothold in the burgeoning proteomics sector.

In the last two weeks OGS has announced strategic alliances with antibody specialists Medarex (Nasdaq: MEDX) and Cambridge Antibody Technologies (LSE: CAT), penned a deal to develop biochips with ink-jet biochip specialist Packard BioScience (Nasdaq: PBSC), and clinched a deal to get early access to Applied Biosystems’ (NYSE: PEB) next generation mass spectrometers.

“The PE (Applied Biosystems) thing is a major coup,” OGS’s CEO Michael Kranda told GenomeWeb. “OGS has 15 mass spec machines running now. We plan on adding between 5 and 10 more in the next year.”

Under the terms of the early-access agreement, OGS will purchase several prototypes of the MALDI TOF/TOF mass spectrometer and later in 2001 will have access to the final commercialized versions of the machines as well. The mass spectrometers are scheduled for delivery in first-quarter 2001. 

The new machines, which are said to be 10 times faster than current technology, are expected to help OGS to build its library of characterized proteins, which currently contains about 250,000 protein parts derived from about 15,000-20,000 genes, as well as to uncover potential drug targets.

“The goal is really to identify drugable targets. We think we’ll find 4,000 drug targets next year,” Kranda said.

In order to achieve this goal, OGS is planning to open the world’s largest proteome innovation center in Oxford later this month.

OGS has already leveraged its research into potential treatments. The company’s Vevesca treatment for Gaucher’s and Fabry’s diseases is currently in clinical trials. And, OGS is working with Medarex of Princeton, NJ, to develop antibody drugs as novel therapeutics for cancer and other diseases.

The joint venture has identified its first target antigen discovered by OGS, which will be developed by Medarex using HuMAb-Mouse, a strain of mice that has been genetically engineered to generate human antibodies.

In addition, OGS has partnered with antibody specialist Cambridge Antibody Technology of Melbourn, UK, and Packard BioScience of Meriden, Conn., for the development of a new protein biochip.

Cambridge Antibody Technolgy will lend OGS its expertise in generating antibodies for protein biochips, while Packard BioScience will provide the technological expertise.

The protein chips, which will hit the market in 12-18 months, are expected to enable clinicians to detect disease earlier and less invasively, using blood or urine in most cases. In addition, the chips will offer a more accurate way to determine which drug to administer for optimum drug response, said Raj Parekh, OGS’s chief scientific officer.

The first biochips will be for a variety of cancers, although Parekh declined to be more specific.

Once the majority of proteins have been analyzed, researchers will also be able to use protein chips to characterize unidentified proteins. Parekh said that researchers would be able to discover uncharacterized proteins by washing antibodies for known proteins over the chip. Those proteins that don’t bind with an antibody would then be analyzed using traditional 2D gels and mass spectrometry.

This process will help to reduce redundancy and allow researchers to discover the more elusive proteins by removing the hay to find the needle, Parekh said.

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