A new company spinning out of the Burnham Institute in California seeks to improve on the ubiquitous but not necessarily accurate microarray technology by focusing on promoter rather than cDNA arrays. Prosiris, officially founded near mid-year, has “been in the works for at least six or seven months,” says Eileen Adamson, vice president of scientific development and a member of the Burnham Institute for 22 years.
Adamson came to La Jolla from Oxford, UK, where she was an embryologist working on transcription factors in stress response genes. “We wanted to know what the DNA targets were, and not just one by one — we’re sick of that,” she says. To take the method to high-throughput levels, she and her husband Dan Mercola, who works at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, came up with a system to capture proteins using chromosome immunoprecipitation, or what they call “ChIP on a chip.”
Using a formaldehyde treatment, a stimulated molecule is frozen at a particular moment; that “crosslinks the DNA and the protein while they’re actually responding,” says David O’Hagan, vice president of business development for the company.
That allows for studying the promoter element itself, which gives a more direct glimpse of cell activity than current microarrays that scan only for levels of mRNA to figure out which genes are reacting, says O’Hagan, adding that Prosiris’ technology will work with existing software and array scanners.
“The DNA that we capture gets labeled and put on an array,” Adamson says. It’s a way to identify “all the target genes under different conditions in different cells.” Not surprisingly, the technology lends itself well to studying the complexities of cancer, a field of interest to both Adamson and Mercola. Tests can be done directly on patient samples, and Adamson says results will be combined with patient data for a better understanding of regulatory networks and gene reaction.
The company, which has received a patent for its technology, will soon decide whether to pursue licensing deals or work on its own. O’Hagan expects an early angel-financing round to get $500,000 to $750,000 — enough to get a product to market, he says. That would likely be followed by a VC round, probably by one of the many firms linked to Burnham who look to the institute for funding opportunities.
— Meredith Salisbury