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Finnish CRO Adopts Plexpress Expression Profiling Platform for ADME-Tox Studies

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SBW, a Helsinki, Finland-based contract research organization, will offer the Plexpress TRAC platform for high-throughput gene expression analysis to its clients in the pharmaceutical industry, Plexpress said this week.

Beyond Finland, SBW maintains offices in Munich, Germany, and Vancouver, Canada. The CRO cites dozens of drug development partnerships on its website, including references from Schering, Medivir, and Affectis Pharmaceuticals. SBW will now offer the Plexpress TRAC cytochrome P450 family of multiplex assays as part of its portfolio for investigating in vitro drug interactions and preclinical ADME-tox profiles.

Plexpress CEO Jari Rautio told BioArray News this week that the deal with SBW is "significant" for the company and is the "first in a series of upcoming CRO collaborations" that Plexpress has in its pipeline, although he declined to identify potential partners. Such partnerships will "form a core component" of the firm's ongoing business strategy," Rautio said.

Like SBW, Plexpress is located in Helsinki. The privately held company was established in 2007 to commercialize TRAC, which stands for Transcript Analysis with the aid of Affinity Capture. According to the firm, TRAC relies on a set of amplifiable detection probes and biotinylated oligo-capture probes that are hybridized in solution. The resulting sandwich hybrids are collected on magnetic streptavidin-coated microparticles and washed. The hybridized probes are then eluted and detected with laser-induced fluorescence and capillary electrophoresis. TRAC has been adapted to work in a 96-well format, allowing users to profile the expression of 30 genes in each well.

Plexpress currently provides a Human ADMET service for measuring gene expression levels of cytochrome P450-encoding genes and other genes associated with drug metabolism, according to its website. Rautio said last month that Plexpress intends to "build up" its ADMET screening service after its investors pledged financing commitments of up to $2.3 million (4/17/2012).

Rather than building its own sales force to support the platform, it has instead focused on expanding its service offering via CROs, which offer TRAC using kits provided by Plexpress, according to Rautio.

"By working alongside CROs such as SBW, we hope to make TRAC gene expression analysis readily available for widespread use by the pharmaceutical industry," he said.

In particular, the two companies are looking to benefit from a recent US Food and Drug Administration draft report that suggests that drug discovery researchers use CYP mRNA induction, rather than CYP activity, to assess drug metabolism and activity.

The company has positioned TRAC as an alternative to quantitative PCR and traditional gene expression arrays. Rautio said that TRAC is "ideal" for performing preclinical studies of novel drug compounds, as it "offers significant[ly] higher sample throughput" than qPCR by allowing multiplexing of up to 30 gene targets per sample.

He said that SBW will offer Plexpress' pre-validated CYP panels for assessing ADMET response profiles in human primary hepatocytes and HepaRG cells. But other options are available for SBW's clients. "TRAC is flexible enough to accommodate any target gene and model system of interest, allowing users to create their own custom assays if required," said Rautio.

According to Rautio, pharma has already "shown interest" in TRAC. This interest stems from a "growing tendency for pharmaceutical companies to outsource some of their screening work to specialist CROs," he said. Interest has also come from CROs, which see TRAC as a complement to their existing assays.

Rautio declined to discuss financial aspects of the new partnership with SBW.

SBW CEO Juha Saharinen told BioArray News this week that the firm decided to adapt Plexpress given the platform's ability to "adopt to the transcripts of interest" combined with the "capability of multiplexing to a few dozens of transcripts."

He also cited the scalability of the platform. "You can run easily and cost-efficiently larger number of parallel samples than, say, with gene chips," Saharinen said. He did not elaborate.

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