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Thermo Fisher’s BRIMS Center Expands Into Clinical Market, Stays Focused on Academics

This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
 
Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Biomarker Research Initiative in Mass Spectrometry center said last week that it has expanded its capabilities to include clinical validation and assay development, but for now the center will focus on partnering with academic researchers rather than commercial entities, according to a company official.
 
The evolution of BRIMS’ capabilities was made possible by last year’s merger of Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific, as well as the recent acquisition of Cohesive Technologies. Now the center will focus on quantitative proteomics and will branch out into a variety of disease areas including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and maternal diseases.
 
The BRIMS center was founded by Thermo Electron in late 2004 and up until now has focused on proteomics research in the biomarker-discovery phase. In particular, the center focused on cardiovascular biomarkers and partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital, which had a large quantity of well-annotated plasma samples from cardiovascular clinical trials.
 
But through a combination of technological advances and market demand, the center has turned its attention to clinical validation and assay development, Mary Lopez, director of the BRIMS center, told BioCommerce Week.
 
“We are expanding our disease focus beyond cardiovascular disease,” said Lopez. “So, we’re now looking at cancer, Alzheimer’s, and potentially some maternal diseases. We also are moving beyond the area of just discovery and really getting into quantitative proteomics. That’s really going to be our focus.”
 
She said that advances in proteomic technologies are driving the direction of the center. “Proteomics is an evolving science and has matured beyond the areas of just discovery … to now quantification and areas where we can apply quantitative principles to a practical area,” said Lopez.
 
“In a sense, we are following the trends in proteomics,” she said. “But we are also leading the trends because we have developed the technology that allows us and others to make these assays now quantitative.”
 
One of the key technologies being employed at the BRIMS center is Thermo Fisher’s TSQ Quantum Ultra triple quadrupole mass spectrometer, which according to the firm, enables targeted protein quantitation in complex matrices. Other tools used at the center include the firm’s LTQ Orbitrap hybrid mass spec, LTQ FTMS, LTQ XL mass spec, and the KingFisher technology for sample separation.
 
She said the center plans to announce a number of partnerships throughout the remainder of the year for assay development. “Before year’s end I would hope to see a number of these assays and workflows that we can share,” said Lopez.
 
She noted that although the center’s collaboration with Mass General is essentially completed, the firm is still talking with the researcher with whom it was collaborating and may proceed with some informal partnership.
 
“We’re going to focus on partnering with a handful of key opinion leaders in the clinical area, and our efforts are going to be directed at developing [multiple reaction monitoring] assays for biomarkers that are either already existing or that our collaborators will discover in partnering with us,” she said. “But our effort is really creating quantitative workflows that we can bring into the clinical environment.”
 
Lopez said the center expects to have assays developed and to begin commercializing them “very soon. Certainly, within the course of this year that’s going to be our main focus. We have the tools, we have the technologies, and we have the collaborators in process,” she said.
 
According to Lopez, the disease areas the center will focus on depend largely on market demand and the requirements of its partners.
 
“Wherever there is a great need for either early detection in a particular therapeutic area or the ability to monitor drug development … that’s one reason we would head in [a specific] direction,” said Lopez. “Another very powerful incentive is choosing the people that we work with and going after areas that have a lot of promise in the clinical world. We’re choosing the therapeutic areas based on need and on our ability to partner with leaders in the field,” she said.
 
However, the BRIMS center will likely continue to partner with academic research facilities rather than with pharma and biotech companies, Lopez said.
 
“We typically don’t partner with other commercial entities at the BRIMS,” she said. “We are pretty focused on working with academics who are really closely affiliated with clinical institutions, hospitals, and CROs. If you’re talking about partnering with pharma, at the moment that’s really not an area we’re focused on at BRIMS. But Thermo is a very big company and obviously we have a lot of relationships.”
 
‘Open-Minded’ Assay Strategy
 
Lopez said that although the center expects its partners to offer assays from their collaborations, Thermo Fisher may also retain rights to some of the tests.
 

“The main focus for us over the coming year is to demonstrate that we can develop some very robust assays for collection of biomarkers and demonstrate that this technology has a place in the clinic or in a CRO.”

“Our aim is to make these assays available, and I think we’re open-minded about where they can go,” she said. “The model that we have is that we will co-develop with our collaborators and we will look towards licensing these assays or making them available through the clinical institutions that our collaborators are associated with, or through the diagnostic arm of Fisher.
 
“We don’t have any set plans at the moment for any particular assays,” said Lopez. “The main focus for us over the coming year is to demonstrate that we can develop some very robust assays for collection of biomarkers and demonstrate that this technology has a place in the clinic or in a CRO.”
 
According to Lopez, last year’s $10.6 billion merger of Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific enabled the BRIMS center to move beyond biomarker discovery and into the clinical setting (see BioCommerce Week 11/15/2006).
 
Prior to the merger, Thermo Electron was primarily a capital equipment manufacturer with a focus on mass spectrometry, and to a lesser extent, liquid and gas chromatography instruments and related software. Through the merger, Fisher Scientific brought a large portfolio of consumables and complementary reagent technologies.
 
Thermo Fisher’s and the center’s capabilities also have been enhanced by the recent acquisition of Cohesive Technologies, whose primary technology, called TurboFlow, is designed to improve sample throughput and increase detection limits in mass spec and LC experiments (see BioCommerce Week 12/20/2006).
 
The merger “put us in a premier position vis a vis our competitors because in order to develop robust, quantitative assays,” said Lopez. “You don’t just need equipment, you also need the front end … technologies for sample preparation, technologies for sophisticated enrichment, such as the new HPLC technology we have from Cohesive, [and] all of the technologies that we have available to us from Pierce and the diagnostic arm of Fisher.
 
“The merger, in bringing together all of these new resources that we have in Thermo Fisher, allows us to do this more quickly and in a more robust manner,” she said.
 
Thermo Fisher is working on other molecular diagnostic opportunities outside of the biomarker and assay development work at the BRIMS center, said Lopez. By its own estimation, the firm is the eighth largest diagnostics company in the world, she said.
 
Lopez joined the BRIMS center at the beginning of February from Thermo Fisher rival PerkinElmer, where she served as business manager for the analytical proteomics business, and headed up the firm’s strategic collaborations group.

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