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Hybrigenics Considers Expanding Beyond Paris Headquarters

NEW YORK, Feb 21 -  Unlike many genomics executives, Hybrigenics president Donny Strosberg doesn’t have recruiting headaches. Scientists and bioinformaticians want to work in his Paris facility, which is one of the few companies in France doing genomics- and bioinformatics-related research.

But the Paris location does hinder Hybrigenics in its efforts to make big drug discovery deals with pharma and biotech companies around the world, Strosberg told GenomeWeb.

“Nobody believes you’re going to Paris to do business,” he joked. “They think you’re going for a nice dinner.”

As a result, Hybrigenics is seriously considering establishing a US base of operations, either by acquiring a company in the states or by opening a new US facility.

There are only a handful of French pharmaceutical companies, and Hybrigenics already has a deal with one, Servier, to map out protein pathways related to Cancer. In order to expand its business, Hybrigenics will have to expand its presence outside of its borders.

Strosberg said German pharmaceutical companies would often rather deal with companies within their own borders, while it’s even harder to make deals with US and UK pharmaceutical companies unless you have a US office of operations.

The location of the US facility will be determined by whether Hybrigenics wants to deal primarily with biotech or with pharma, Strosberg said.

If the company decides to focus on biotech, then it will choose a US location located near a number of biotech companies, and if Hybrigenics goes with pharma, Strosberg said, “then [the location] will have to be New Jersey.”

Biotech deals generally would allow Hybrigenics to keep more of its intellectual property, but they might be less promising in helping Hybrigenics to reach its goal of using its genomics-based protein interaction mapping technology, or PIMS, to actually help discover drugs that make it to market, Strosberg said.

Hybrigenics, which raised nearly $30 million in seed and venture capital, might have to raise more money in the next year or two if it decides to acquire an American company.

”We have enough funding in the bank for the next two years, but if we [acquire a company], our burn rate will go up,” Strosberg said.

Meanwhile, Hybrigenics is also planning to expand within Paris, by moving to a new facility in June that is four times larger than its current one. The new facility will include five to seven sequencers, both the 3700s that the company has and additional MegaBaces, Strosberg said. Its production space will include robots and it will be five times as big as the current production facility. 

From this new facility, the company hopes to continue on its mission to use its fluorescent tagging technology to map out proteins for major diseases. The company fragments cDNA, which encodes “prey proteins”, then throws carefully selected fluorescently tagged “bait” proteins at these encoded, yet unknown prey proteins. It then discovers which “prey” proteins stick to the bait.  

By tracing the prey protein back to its sequence, the company can characterize this protein’s domain. Using this information and bioinformatics algorithms, the company is able to find out the domains of thousands of proteins and map out large webs of protein-protein interaction.

Ultimately, Strosberg would like to have a complete map of all the protein pathways in the human genome within the next five years. But he knows it will be more difficult, than say, tracing the routes on a Paris metro map. Even with Celera and the Human Genome Project’s concurring estimation that there are less than 40,000 genes in the genome, the existence of alternative splicing, in which one gene encodes multiple proteins, means that there could be over 150,000 proteins.  

“For us it’s perfect,” Strosberg said. “We have already found splice forms that don’t interact because they are missing a piece. We have seen splice variants never discovered before and now we are looking at phosphorylated proteins."

 But he acknowledged, “We know we have a big job ahead of us.”

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