NEW YORK, July 27 - Oxford Glycosciences described its proteomics strategy in detail for the first time Friday, laying out the company's technology for cataloging and analyzing proteins to investors and the media at a luncheon in New York.
The occasion, it seemed, was the Oxford, UK-based company's success in installing two new technologies for analyzing proteins: the ICAT reagent technology for measuring relative quanties of expressed proteins, developed by Ruedi Aebersold of the Institute for Systems Biology while at the University of Washington, and the MALDI TOF/TOF, a mass spectrometry system developed by Marvin Vestal of Applied Biosystems and currently available under an early access program.
That OGS had established relationships to use the technology was already known, but only in the last few weeks has the protein analysis system been up and running, OGS' director of proteomics research, Reid Townsend, told GenomeWeb. "All the bits work," he said. "We've been involved in the development of the machine; now we have proof of principle that it works."
Integrating the two new technologies with OGS' established platform for 2D gel electrophoresis will enable the company to analyze proteins isolated from human samples at 10 to 1000 times the rate they could before, the company said. In addition, the ICAT reagent technology should allow OGS researchers to determine more accurately which proteins are over or under-expressed in certain disease tissues, compared to healthy tissue. Using just a 2D gel system for isolating proteins and comparing their expression is adequate, said Raj Parekh, OGS' chief scientific officer, but applying ICAT reagent technology opens up new doors for discovering medically important proteins.
ICAT, for Isotope Coded Affinity Tag, reagents allow researchers to tag proteins by relying on the slight difference in weight between hydrogen and deuterium atoms. To compare the proteins expressed in two separate tissue samples, researchers tag the proteins in one sample with the heavier, deuterium-containing tag, and the proteins in the other sample with the lighter, hydrogen-containing tags. When the two samples are combined and injected into a mass spectrometer, the detector can compare the relative amounts of each protein that are expressed in both tissues. This method, when compared to standard spot-imaging of 2D gels, is a much more precise method of measuring differential expression of proteins, OGS scientists said. ABI has an exclusive license to market the ICAT reagent technology.
Townsend said the company also has two of ABI's MALDI TOF/TOF instruments analyzing protein samples tagged with ICAT reagents. The mass spectrometry platform, he said, enables company researchers to first compare the relative amounts of a given protein expressed in two samples before having to determine their amino acid sequence. The advantage is that OGS scientists must spend time identifying only those proteins that are present in significantly different amounts, in theory minimizing the resources required to identify proteins with a role in disease.
However, despite the apparent advantages, OGS is not the only proteomics company to have access to the technology. GeneProt, a proteomics company with facilities in Geneva, Switzerland, and Chicago, has also licensed ICAT reagents from ABI and is participating in ABI's early access program for the MALDI TOF/TOF. In addition, Large Scale Proteomics, the Gaithersburg, Md.-based subsidiary of Large Scale Biology, has also made significant strides in identifying large numbers of therapeutically-relevant proteins.
OGS, however, is not fazed. The 13 year-old company has already made several in-roads into pharmaceuticals, including pushing a drug for the treatment of Gaucher disease into clinical trials. Ultimately, said Parekh, the company's technology is important only insofar as it relates to the medical and pharmaceutical aspects of proteomics. The challenge, he said, is to determine "what information is required to pick one target over another."