“There used to be a time when I was embarrassed to say I was in diagnostics,” says Gail Page, the head of Ciphergen’s new clinical diagnostics division. “Now end users have come around to understanding its value.”
Page, a Florida native who began her career in diagnostics almost 25 years ago selling KDA analyzers, is hoping to find users of Ciphergen’s protein profiling technology — clinical diagnostics companies and hospitals — who will grasp its value. With the company now reorganized into two divisions, diagnostics and ProteinChip systems, Page is on a mission to create commercial assays out of Ciphergen’s in-house protein biomarker discovery efforts.
Page’s experience in industry should help. During the early ’80s she worked as a technical representative for American Monitor, a manufacturer of clinical chemistry equipment, and in 1988 joined Roche Biomedical, the predecessor to LabCorp, where she rose to head the pathology and cytology business unit and eventually to oversee all technology assessment. “I’ve always been in a position where I’ve been launching stuff that was what I call cutting edge,” Page says. She was attracted to Ciphergen because of the opportunity to launch new types of diagnostics, and also because “I saw a company that was very rich in some ingredients, one being content,” she says.
Getting that content to market won’t necessarily be easy. Page’s new division comprises about 25 to 30 people working on early-stage biomarker discovery — plus a few more hires, she says — but the primary challenge is convincing diagnostics companies of the tests’ robustness. Page’s first step for that is to oversee Ciphergen’s collaborations with Johns Hopkins University researchers, who are using the ProteinChip system to investigate ovarian and prostate cancer, and MD Anderson Cancer Center scientists, who are seeking biomarkers associated with lung, pancreatic, and colon cancers.
There’s no lack of competition, either. Other companies, such as Correlogic Systems and Large Scale Biology, have picked up on the idea of using a pattern of protein expression as a marker for a certain disease or susceptibility, using strategies similar to Ciphergen’s. Page contends that Ciphergen has a superior position because the company’s scientists have actually identified the biomarker proteins, rather than just recording their expression profile, and made progress in understanding their role in the body.
“Lately there’s a lot of companies — they’re claiming to be companies, I use that term loosely — and they’re software companies trying to say they’re diagnostics companies,” Page says. “They’re just companies trying to ride some type of wave, but if you look at this company, they actually have the biology and science in combination with the unique software that is available to us today.”
— John S. MacNeil