For a busy fellow like Robin Offord, president of Geneva Proteomics, Australia seems an awfully long way to go for a 60-minute speaking engagement. Then again, Australian life scientists might wonder why Offord built his company so far away from the birthplace of proteomics.
Offord and Compaq, his host at a bioinformatics and biocomputing meeting down under in May, make a strong case for GeneProt as the world leader in proteome research. With a cluster of 1,420 Alpha processors, GeneProt says it possesses the most powerful civilian supercomputer of the moment. And deep-pocketed backers lend the company an air of invincibility: Compaq, Bruker, and Novartis have all taken equity stakes, and a research deal with Novartis is expected to reap $41 million over the next three years.
Even so, some folks in Australia beg to differ with GeneProts claim that it has been first to industrialize proteomics research.
Brad Walsh, who directs the Australian Proteome Analysis Facility (APAF) situated just outside Sydney on Macquarie Universitys sprawling research campus, where leaves were falling in early May, says his operation was established five years ago. Which would make it, not GeneProt, the worlds first proteomics factory.
With an annual operating budget of $2 million, APAF cant match GeneProt on muscle. But its assembly-line-like setup that shuttles proteins from 2D gel through mass spectrometry and in silico analysis would seem to qualify it as an industrial-scale operation. Walsh says he is close to being capable of characterizing the proteome of an entire sequenced microorganism up to 4,000 proteins in one week. In fact, APAFs partnership with BioRad and Micromass has resulted in the development of a platform of integrated technologies for high-throughput proteome analysis that are now commercially available to others who aspire to such projects in the form of the ProteomeWorks System.
APAFs ties to several of the fields forefathers Ian Humphery-Smith, now a professor in the department of pharmaceutical proteomics at the University of Utrecht and the organizer of the Human Proteome Organization, helped establish the facility, and Denis Hochstrasser, a GeneProt founder and 2D-gel guru, spent a year at the lab in its early stages and remains an advisor give credence to its claim to first place.
Marc Wilkins, known far and wide for having coined the term proteome, was also an APAF founder. But he has since defected to an office park down the street. Wilkins was among a group of APAFers who followed the facilitys former director, the elfin and energetic Keith Williams, in a mass exodus in 1999 to pursue a parallel plan with a more capitalist bent. Having teamed up with Shimadzu Biotech, Sigma-Aldrich, and Millipore to develop their own proteome analysis platform, Wilkins and Williams now say that Proteome Systems has created the worlds first integrated, high-throughput platform for proteome analysis. Williams observes, Lifes a race. Which explains why everyone wants to be first.