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Oxford Glycosciences to Buy Applied Biosystems Mass Spectrometers, Develop Biochips with Packard

PARIS, Sept 19 – Britain’s Oxford Glycosciences (LSE: OGS) announced on Tuesday a deal to buy next generation mass spectrometers from Applied Biosystems (NYSE: PEB) as well as an agreement to collaborate with Packard BioScience (Nasdaq: PBSC) to develop protein biochips.

Financial terms of the deals, which represent significant efforts to secure a leading position in the proteomics sector, were not disclosed.

Oxford Glycosciences of Oxford is also considering the possibility of listing its shares on the Nasdaq in 2001, Reuters reported.

Under the terms of the deal with genomics instrumentation maker Applied Biosystems, Oxford Glycosciences will receive new MALDI TOF/TOF mass spectrometers on an early access basis.

Oxford Glycosciences declined to comment on how many mass spectrometers were to be delivered to OGS. The new machines are scheduled to arrive at Oxford Glycosciences in the first quarter of 2001. Applied Biosystems was expected to begin delivering the new machines to its sister company, Celera Genomics (NYSE: CRA), sometime this month.

The machines are expected to yield higher throughput because of an increase in sensitivity or “mass accuracy”. Mass accuracy is important because researchers identify protein fragments by using mass, or roughly speaking the weight of a protein fragment, to determine which combinations of amino acids are present in the protein fragment being analyzed. Proteins are composed of amino acids similar to the way DNA is composed of nucleic acids.

On another proteomics front, Oxford Glycoscience said it will work with Packard BioScience to develop protein microarrays that would be used to analyze proteins.

“We see microarrays for protein detection as the next major advance in analytical proteomics,” Raj Parekh, chief scientific officer at Oxford Glycosciences, said in a statement. “The market potential of protein microarrays is very large with applications from basic research to clinical diagnostic tests.”

Packard BioScience said it believes the deal will allow it to adapt its biochip platform technologies currently used for genomics applications to proteomics. The company’s biochip technologies include ink-jet microarray printing robots, Hydrogel chip substrates, and confocal laser scanners.

The announcements underscore Oxford Glycosciences’ efforts to stay ahead in the proteomics race. Other companies such as Celera, Geneva Proteomics, and Large Scale Proteomics have also announced intentions to become sector leaders.

Last week Switzerland’s Geneva Proteomics said it would buy 51 mass spectrometers from Bruker Daltonics (Nasdaq: BDAL).

With the release of the MALDI TOF/TOF mass spectrometer, Applied Biosystems is hoping to revolutionize the scale and pace of proteomics in the same way its ABI Prism 3700 DNA sequencers revolutionized genomics. Craig Venter, president and chief scientific officer of Celera Genomics, has said the MALDI TOF/TOF is about 10 times faster than machines currently on the market.   

Parekh said that “once these machines are up and running, throughput at the mass spec level will no longer be the bottleneck.”

By removing that bottleneck, companies can ramp up the time it takes to develop drugs. Oxford Glycosciences said that by employing the new machines it will be able to analyze up to about 1 million proteins per year.

Oxford Glycosciences has already put in patent applications for over 1000 proteins that it believes could be commercially important.

The onslaught of such large amounts of data clearly underlines the ever increasing role of bioinformatics to prioritize which proteins will ultimately become drug targets, which drug targets OGS will pursue and which targets to license out to big pharma or biotech.

Oxford Glycosciences is the only proteomics company running a fully functional end-to-end proteomics facility, including protein separation, mass spectrometry analysis, bioinformatics, and drug development. The company is also building a new industrial proteomics factory.

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