Time zones away from European and American attempts to build drug discovery companies around proteomics technology, Asian scientists are busy creating their own critical mass of research projects in proteomics — primarily in academia — with substantial government funding support.
Asian proteomics scientists have formed their own club, the Asia-Oceania Human Proteome Organization; their own interest groups, particularly for the study of liver disease and of SARS; and their own international collaborations. And as big instrument companies have recently discovered (Waters recently reported double-digit sales growth in Japan), the Asian market for proteomics equipment has strong growth potential.
Researchers at the Yonsei Proteome Research Center in Seoul, led by Young-Ki Paik, president of the Korean HUPO chapter and secretary-general of HUPO, are conducting five major proteomics projects: proteome profile changes in cholesterol metabolism; proteome analysis of hepatocellular cancer (part of HUPO’s liver proteome project); proteome expression comparison of lung cancer tumors; the construction of a database for the liver cancer proteome; and, most recently, the initiation of the Korean Human Plasma Proteome Project (part of HUPO’s Human Plasma Proteome Project).
At the moment, Paik is most excited about the KHPPP, for which his center just received an eight-year grant of $2.1 million annually from the Korean government. The project, which will receive guidance, protocols, and coordination from HUPO, began in July and represents a major breakthrough for proteomics funding in Korea, according to Paik. “This is the first time ever that the Korean government has put money on a global project like HPPP. The government usually puts money on something short term, like the development of drug targets, not on the construction of a reference map like this. This is a very meaningful start,” Paik says.
Like just about every other proteomics center in Asia, Paik’s research focuses on liver disease — the second major cause of cancer death in Korea, and a huge problem throughout Asia, where rampant hepatitis B and C increase the risk for liver cancer.
Max Chung, the Singapore representative for AOHUPO, runs the National University of Singapore’s Structural Biology and Proteomics Initiative, Singapore’s central proteomics resource center, along with Choy Leong Hew.
Due mostly to the high cost of proteomics instrumentation, Singapore has consolidated much of its proteomics resources to a single site at NUS, where a variety of instruments — including tandem MS/MS, MALDI TOF, Q-TOF, and SELDI — are available to the community on a fee-for-service basis. In his own lab, Chung focuses most of his energies on finding biomarkers for liver cancer using traditional 2D gels with Amersham’s CyDye technology and mass spectrometry. Chung’s partner Hew also looks at colorectal biomarkers, and the two recently received a new grant from the Singapore Cancer Syndicate for $171,000 per year, to support their biomarker research.
Like his counterparts in Korea, Shui-Ten Chen at the Institute of Biological Chemistry in Taipei is also directing at least part of his proteomics efforts toward the discovery of biomarkers in blood and urine for hepatocellular cancer. His biomarker determination method — using multi-dimensional electrophoresis and SELDI-TOF to construct fingerprints indicative of cancer — is similar to that used in the early ovarian cancer biomarker studies conducted by Emanuel Petricoin and Lance Liotta at the US FDA and NCI, although Chen says he developed his method independently.
Like many Taiwanese scientists, Chen recently added SARS to his list of interests. After receiving SARS coronavirus cDNA from the Taiwan Center for Disease Control, Chen cloned a SARS protease and spike protein, expressed them, and sent the proteins to a Taiwanese friend, Huang Jin Ming, at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Huang, an immunologist, is attempting to develop a SARS vaccine from the proteins.
The Taiwanese government far overtakes Korea and Japan with its generous support for proteomics research. Various agencies within the Taiwanese government put $600 million toward functional genomics research and industrial development in 2002, of which about one-third went to proteomics research, Chen says. That number is expected to increase by five to six percent each year.
An extended version of this column appeared in ProteoMonitor’s August 18 edition.
Katherine A. Mason is editor of ProteoMonitor, a weekly newsletter from GenomeWeb at www.proteomonitor.com. She can be reached at [email protected] genomeweb.com.