Two Munich startups, Nanotype and Xerion Pharmaceuticals, have joined forces to develop a human nerve cell protein chip.
The companies will develop the chip over the next two to three years, the first year of which is to be funded from a grant they received from the German Ministry of Research (BMBF).
The project will involve two phases, the first for validating the chip technology for research on new treatments for central nervous system disorders or nerve damage from spinal cord injuries, and the second for developing probes designed to detect a particular therapeutic target, said Fritz Rudert, director of business development at Xerion.
Protein chips in neurodegenerative diseases will serve “a major unmet need,” said Rudert. “There’s a lot to be learned about the function of cells in this context.”
Xerion will generate antibodies to bind to potential drug targets and validate the targets in cells using its protein inactivation chemistry Xcaliber.
Nanotype will provide its C-Fit technology, which relies on the forces between molecules as a method for detection of binding between the probe and the target molecule. While scientists in the past few years have become capable of detecting these forces on a single-molecule level, these experiments have been done one molecule at a time. This technology, developed by Nanotype co-founder Hermann Gaub, allows them to be done in parallel, on a single substrate.
“Gaub found a way to put all of the intelligence of the atomic force microscope into an assembly of a few molecules,” explained Gunnar Brink, CEO of Nanotype. “We are not using scales. We use a nanoscale device that can be printed onto a silicon or glass surface.”
After the sample is applied to the first chip, a second chip is applied to the surface of the first chip to read the nanoscale detection devices. This second chip can differentiate between specific- and non-specific binding events.
While the German patent is still pending on this technology, Nanotype expects it to be published in February 2002.
In addition to the Xerion partnership, Nanotype, which raised 3.5 million Euro in early-stage financing, is also developing antibody-antigen protein chips. The company is currently conducting a feasibility study for a major pharmaceutical company, Brink said. At the moment, Nanotype makes arrays by manual pipetting, but is looking into buying an arraying device early next year.