GenTel BioSurfaces took another step towards commercializing a line of pre-spotted antibody arrays late last month by securing a $250,000 loan from the state of Wisconsin.
Made available through the state's Venture Capital Fund, which offers low-interest loans to local companies, the extra cash is part of a larger push by the Madison, Wisc.-based firm to bring a diagnostic array to market by early 2006, according to GenTel's CEO Alex Vodenlich.
"This is part of an aggressive push to put out an antibody array," Vodenlich told BioArray News last week.
Vodenlich declined to comment on what application areas the array would target, but said that it was being developed with a second company, and that it should take approximately "$1.7 million to bring [the array] to market in six months."
It is possible that the array could target prostrate cancer, pancreatic cancer, or allergies, given GenTel's research connections and previously awarded grants, but the company declined to disclose any details on potential applications for the upcoming product.
Land of Milk and Money
According to Vodenlich, the $250,000 loan is "just part of a multi-pronged strategy" GenTel is employing to expand its current offering of protein array slides and reagents to include a variety of pre-spotted arrays for diagnostic applications.
"This is part of an aggressive push to put out an antibody array."
Over the past year the company has secured $900,000 in five separate Small Business Innovation Research grants from the federal government to develop its protein array platform, to aid in gene regulation studies, to create better analysis equipment, and to develop a diagnostic application for allergy indications, Vodenlich said (see BAN 7/21/2004).
The company has also benefited from its location in a growing biotech cluster centered around Madison, Wisc., that includes fellow array firm NimbleGen and others.
"It's a great deal," Vodenlich said of the loan. "Wisconsin has multiple programs for supporting the growth of new industries, especially in biotech — the life sciences and medical devices."
He said that Act 255, which was enacted by the state's legislature in April 2004 and allows "tax credits for investment in small, high-tech companies," can "encourage investors to increase support of these businesses." The same act also created the venture capital funding program through which the company received its most recent grant.
In 2002,GenTel was awarded a $200,000 loan from the state of Wisconsin, similar to the current loan (see BAN 11/22/2002).
Vodenlich added that "raising money with private equity placement" was another pillar of GenTel's stratgey for growth. He said that the company has funding from several angel investors, but did not disclose how much cash the company has raised in the past or plans to raise in the future.
New APP is 'Close to its Chest'
Vodenlich declined to comment on the specific application the company will target with its upcoming array. "We've got some that we are keeping close to our chest," he said.
He did say, however, that the content will be available on the company's PATH protein arrays, which are printed on 3x1 nitrocellulose substrates that he claims have "better spot morphology" and "greater signal-to-noise sensitivity" than competing products. The company's PATH kits come with slides and buffers, according to its website.
The recent addition of Brian Haab to the company's scientific advisory board may point toward one potential application for the upcoming array.
Haab, a scientist at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., confirmed by e-mail that he had joined GenTel's SAB and said that he had been using GenTel's platform to develop applications that would use blood samples to diagnose pancreatic or prostrate cancer.
"We are using the PATH slide for antibody array work," Haab told BioArray News. "We have a few different formats in use, mainly applied to serum studies in pancreatic and prostate cancers," he said.
Vodelinch declined to comment on whether the new application that runs on GenTel's platform would target pancreatic or prostrate cancer.
GenTel does have "some pharma companies doing validation" on the platform, but Vodelinch would not disclose who they are.
Vodenlich said that in addition to the new application, the company also plans to provide custom arrays base on its platform, and may also offer " a fee-for-sample" service in which it would analyze customer samples within its own labs,
GenTel also plans to add additional products to the PATH kit for "various things like protein labeling," Vodenlich said. The company also plans to launch a "high-throughput version of the product" in September at the Chips to Hits conference in Boston.
— Justin Petrone ([email protected])