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Hybrigen’s Two-Pronged Proteomics Plan

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Ask David Edwards how he founded Hybrigen, and he won’t give a profound answer. “In retrospect, it’s hard for me to understand how I did it,” he says. “I didn’t sleep very much.”

Under the circumstances, it makes sense. Edwards, now 32, was in his last year as a Ross Perot scholar at a University of Texas Southwestern MD/PhD program in Dallas when he decided to launch the firm. “I knew there was a window of opportunity for these kinds of proteomics technologies so I didn’t have time to waste,” he says. “While I was a medical student I was hiring graduate students out of the university.”

Edwards’s ambitious nature led him into the field in the first place. He was an undergraduate focusing on moral philosophy and publishing an underground political newspaper when Nobel laureate Michael Brown came to recruit students for the graduate program at Southwestern. The program appealed to Edwards, but Brown said research experience would be required. “I stopped him in the street after the talk and asked him for a summer job,” Edwards recalls. Brown placed him at Steve Wasserman’s lab, where he worked for the next four summers.

He began at Southwestern in 1991, around the same time the first two-hybrid papers came out. “I took those available systems to the limit,” he says, but he was intent on getting past those limitations. Hybrigen, established in 1998, is the outcome: the company aims to build better methods of finding protein interactions and to improve protein libraries. “We spent the first two years working out the new system, filing patents, and testing,” Edwards says.

Now, the company has progressed to the marketing stage and is actively seeking customers and partners for its two-pronged proteomics technology. One part enables better protein-interaction detection by changing the threshold to pick up weaker signals. “We would take apart an existing [detection] system and put it back together in a certain way that makes it have an adjustable threshold of sensitivity,” Edwards says, adding that they’ve been successful in all systems they know of.

The other branch works on protein libraries; the CEO speculates that 40 percent of what should be in the domains of standard protein libraries is missing due to the procedures used to find proteins. “We actually think that both of these technologies will make the standard two-hybrid system obsolete,” Edwards speculates.