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OGT, Aushon, and Gentel Ink Separate Deals to Bolster Their Place in Protein-Array Market

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Oxford Gene Technology, Aushon Biosystems, and Gentel Biosciences over the past week took individual steps to expand their offerings in the protein biomarker-discovery research space.

This week, UK-based OGT announced it has acquired Sense Proteomic, a Maidenhead, UK-based protein array-platform company, for an undisclosed sum, with the intention of integrating Sense Proteomic's arrays into OGT's biomarker-discovery program.

Also this week, Billerica, Mass.-based Aushon Biosystems bought Thermo Fisher Scientific's SearchLight protein array business, a decision Aushon said will enable it to offer one of the market's "largest menus of disease-targeted biomarker panels" and make it a "virtual one-stop shop" for biomarker-research needs.

Lastly, Madison, Wis.-based Gentel Biosciences last week announced a partnership with Darien, Ill.-based Eprogen to help drug makers identify new autoantibody biomarkers by selling whole-proteome arrays coupled with protein fractionalization technology.

While each deal is different, each company is reaching out to a similar customer base: pharmaceutical and biotech companies looking for protein research tools to enable biomarker discovery.

OGT and Sense

According to OGT, Sense Proteomic has "identified autoantibody signatures with the potential to" improve disease diagnosis and prognosis, to identify disease stage by monitoring the changes in autoantibody production during disease progression, to monitor the response to therapeutic interventions, and to improve clinical outcomes by stratifying patients for clinical trials and treatment.

The firm also has "identified biomarker panels for several diseases including prostate cancer and systemic lupus erythematosus, and has other biomarker-discovery programs in progress."

OGT CEO Mike Evans said Sense Proteomic has "demonstrated significant progress in developing biomarker panels based on its novel functional protein-array platform."

According to Evans, the acquisition gives OGT a "unique blend of genomic and proteomic technologies, and will lead to the development of biomarkers with profound clinical significance.”

Founded in 1995 to protect and license the patent estate of microarray innovator Sir Edwin Southern, OGT has developed multiple business endeavors since Evans became CEO in 2005 (see BAN 4/27/2005).

For instance, the company has developed and launched a suite of cytogenetics-related array products designed to help detect constitutional abnormalities; is currently developing single-cell analysis tools, and also is focusing on building a high-throughput microarray services facility at its headquarters in Oxford with a "processing capacity of over 1,000 samples per week," according to the firm (see BAN 5/29/2007).

Evans told BioArray News this week that integrating Sense Proteomic into OGT will complement OGT's services business.

"We recently scaled up our DNA array infrastructure to do very large projects," Evans said, noting that OGT upgraded its services capabilities to screen samples for the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium project (see BAN 8/5/2008).

"We decided to also make that infrastructure available for biomarker discovery, and Sense's protein assay is an excellent way to look at biomarkers in blood or serum," Evans said. "For us, it was a good fit."

Most recently a subsidiary of Israeli biotech Procognia, Sense Proteomic became independent last year with the support of international investment group Apax Partners. The firm originally was founded in 2000 using technology developed at the University of Cambridge, and became part of Procognia in 2002.

The company focuses on developing biomarker panels designed to "improve the clinical diagnosis of cancer and autoimmune diseases," according to its website.

On the site, Sense Proteomic claims to have "early tests for prostate cancer, lupus, and non-small cell lung cancer that show high sensitivity and specificity."

Sense Proteomic also claims its protein arrays can be used in drug screening. For example, the company offers a Kinome 2.0 plus array to screen kinase leads against over 190 human kinases on an array format.

Sense Proteomic's arrays include sets of human proteins immobilized onto a streptavidin-coated surface, using a biotin carboxyl carrier protein tag, which is biotinylated only when correctly folded, according to the firm.

Sense Proteomic claims that biotinylation "acts as an indicator of protein folding," meaning that only biotinylated, and therefore correctly folded, proteins are attached to the slide surface, providing "highly reproducible protein arrays."

According to Evans, OGT plans to move Sense Proteomic's operations to the Oxford area by year end. He said that, for the time being, OGT will focus on biomarker discovery, rather than developing catalog products based on Sense Proteomic's technology.

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Aushon and SearchLight

Aushon Biosystems this week paid Thermo Fisher Scientific an undisclosed sum for its SearchLight protein-array business and related assets.

Aushon said it will integrate these technologies but will continue to market them under the SearchLight brand. The combined business will be called Aushon Biosystems.

Founded in 2003, Aushon began shipping its flagship 2470 microarrayer three years later. The firm has since developed a service business that prints DNA, protein, and cell-lysate arrays.

The company focuses on reverse-phase protein lysate microarrays that use an assay developed by collaborators Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin, co-directors of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University (see BAN 7/17/2007).

SearchLight is the protein array arm of Thermo Fisher Scientific, formerly developed by Fisher's Pierce Biotechnology business. Fisher merged with Thermo Electron in 2006 to create Thermo Fisher Scientific.

According to Aushon CEO Peter Honkanen, SearchLight offers "one of the industry’s largest menus of disease-targeted biomarker panels,” and Aushon can now offer its customers a "virtual one-stop shop for their biomarker research needs — from microarray printing and custom assay development to biomarker testing services in a CLIA-certified laboratory."

Through the acquisition, Aushon specifically gains: the SearchLight Sample Testing Service; a custom service that allows researchers to submit samples for quantitative analysis in custom SearchLight biomarker arrays; SearchLight custom arrays and assay development, enabling users to select from a menu of more than 300 proteins to design an array consisting of two to 16 proteins per well; SearchLight chemiluminescent and infrared assay kits created from a list of in-stock angiogenesis, cytokine, chemokine, and MMP arrays, each supplied with a complete set of detection antibody cocktails and detection reagents; a SearchLight CCD imaging and analysis system offering immunoassay imaging and analysis; and SearchLight chemiluminescent assays, which include the SearchLight CCD imager and array analyst software.

Gentel and Eprogen

Gentel Biosciences and Eprogen last week said that they will collaborate to make whole-proteome microarrays to help drug makers identify new autoantibody biomarkers.

Under the deal, the firms will co-market partitioned custom whole-proteome arrays for fluorescence detection on Gentel's Path protein microarray slides and chromogenic detection on its newly introduced Apix Array System (see BAN 2/3/2009).

Proteins identified with the arrays will then be fractionated using Eprogen's ProteoSep fractionation technology, and then the fractions can be identified using a mass-spectrometry system from an external vendor.

"This really works as a great front end on mass spectrometry," Dan Clutter, Gentel's vice president of sales and marketing, told BioArray News this week.

"What you are spotting on the arrays are fractions from chromotographic separation," he said. "Our customers want the fraction that contains the protein that they are interested in, and the best way to look at that fraction is by using mass spec," he said.

To round out the offering, Clutter said that Gentel is going to set up partnerships with mass-spec vendors or service providers. "We can do the fractionation on the arrays and then do the screening, and then send them the fractions, or we partner with mass spec companies by sending the fractions to them and then [have them return] the identities of the peptides," he said.

Clutter added that Gentel is considering bringing mass spec in house, perhaps as early as next year, to build its services business. "This product is well suited towards services because there are so many different pieces," he said. "We will think that focusing on pharma and biotech will be the best way to bring it to market to focus on its viability."

Clutter said that those researchers who have already inquired about the service are most interested in using it in cancer and allergy-related studies.

"For now, there are numerous cancers out there and we will focus on which ones are most interesting to our partners," Clutter said. "As we gain more knowledge, we might come out with products in specific cancer areas depending on technique and utility."

"Another hot area is allergy. I could see that since patients show autoantibodies to various antigens, it's a pretty cool technique for them," he added. "You are looking for patients' autoantibodies, so allergy is a no-brainer to go after."

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