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PROTEOMICS: Plexxikon Looks to Beat Syrrx, Pharma

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Don’t tell Plexxikon there’s no money left in investors’ pockets. The Berkeley, Calif.-based company recently closed a $27 million funding round led by Walden International.

Founded in 1999 by a team of scientists with expertise in cell signaling proteins and their potential as drug targets, Plexxikon differentiates itself from structural proteomics competitors such as Syrrx, Structural Genomix, and big pharma companies by not pursuing a high-throughput crystallography approach.

With a first venture round of $8.2 million last year, Plexxikon began by focusing on four undisclosed protein families — presumably involved in cell signaling — and plans to add more families this year. “Choosing the subset of molecules to look at, the potential targets, is probably one of the more important [tasks],” says Jack Dixon, a member of the company’s scientific advisory board and professor in the biological chemistry department at the University of Michigan Medical School.

To design lead compounds against those targets, Plexxikon is combining x-ray crystallography, molecular modeling, and chemistry. First, Plexxikon scientists hope to identify chemical “scaffolds,” or molecules that bind to a wide range of members in a protein family. A promising scaffold could be developed into more selective and high-affinity drug leads. Plexxikon has an agreement with Scynexis, a Research Triangle Park, NC, company specializing in synthetic organic chemistry, for access to Scynexis’ compound synthesis technology.

— Julia Karow

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