Mycroarray next year hopes to begin making custom digital photolithography-based peptide arrays for clients, according to one of its highest officials.
The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company, which currently manufactures oligonucleotide arrays, recently won a $219,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health to commercialize the peptide synthesis technology.
"We are using digital photography to synthesize peptides on microscope glass slides and inside microfluidic devices," Chief Scientific Officer Jean-Marie Rouillard said last week.
He said the approach was developed by researchers at the University of Michigan, and that Mycroarray's goal is to "move the technology from the university lab to the market."
"We had a machine that was designed to synthesize only one slide at a time," he said. "Now we are going to move that to the company to be higher-throughput, 20 or 30 slides at a time."
Rouillard spoke to BioArray News at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference, held in San Diego last week.
Mycroarray is the market face of Biodiscovery, a 4-year-old company built around an array-fabrication technology developed by co-founder Erdogan Gulari, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. The company does business as Mycroarray to distinguish itself from El Segundo, Calif.-based software developer BioDiscovery.
The firm manufactures its arrays via an internally modified light-directed oligonucleotide-synthesis approach. In standard oligo synthesis, the terminal acid-labile protective group of a growing oligomer is removed by a treatment with a strong acid. By contrast, Mycroarray's approach relies on a photo-generated acid, a step that the company claims enables the synthesis of tens of thousands of oligos in parallel on the same substrate.
The company also uses a digital micromirror device, rather than a mask. On its website, the firm claims that the digital photolithography approach allows it to make any custom microarray with "no upfront design cost or minimal order size."
Rouillard said that Mycroarray's manufacturing process could give it an advantage in the peptide array market, where arrays are often manufactured by masks or printers.
"We do not print the peptides; we synthesize them in situ on a substrate," he said. "We are very flexible since we are using digital photolithography. We just have to direct the computer to shine the light in the position where we need to synthesize the peptides and on a single substrate we can synthesize thousands of peptides at a time. This way we don't need a minimal order. It can be one slide or 10 slides or 100 slides."
There are a number of other firms jockeying for a place in the peptide array market. Potential competitors include Berlin-based JPT Peptide Technologie; Heidelberg, Germany-based PepPerPrint; Piscataway, NJ-based GenScript; Lelystad, the Netherlands-based Pepscan Presto; Hayward, Calif.-based Elim Pharmaceuticals; Houston-based LC Sciences; Vancouver, BC-based Kinexus; Madison, Wis.-based GWC Technologies, and others.
According to Mycroarray's NIH grant abstract, its goals are to "lower the cost of peptide microarrays by at least one order of magnitude and reduce the synthesis time to less than 24 hours for peptides containing up to 15 amino acids;" "increase the density of peptides on a microarray by an order of magnitude to more than 10,000 per array;" and "use fluorescent probes as well as high resolution mass spectroscopy to determine sequence purity and stepwise yields for addition of each of the 20 naturally occurring amino acids."
In the abstract, Rouillard, who is listed as the principal investigator, argued that there are two reasons why peptide arrays have not yet reached their potential — namely the "enormous diversity" possible with peptide microarrays and the "high cost of peptide microarrays in comparison to DNA microarrays."
Rouillard last week declined to discuss pricing for his firm's peptide arrays, but cost per peptide is certainly a factor in the market. PepPerPrint, for instance, has claimed that it costs $0.10 for the firm to synthesize a peptide using its printer-based approach (BAN 6/1/2010).
According to Rouillard, the adopters for its lower-cost arrays should include drug-discovery researchers such as pharma companies. He noted in the NIH abstract the "huge, but largely unrealized, potential for peptide microarray applications in drug discovery, [the] study of cellular pathways, and treatment of tumors."
In addition to its "flexible" manufacturing method, Mycroarray will rely on its assay, which requires cells or other biomolecules to circulate within a microfluidic device containing an array substrate, and then capturing the cells with the peptides.
"The application of the peptide microarrays is that we can have multiple peptide sequences for different cells," Rouillard said. "It is a very good research tool to identify high-affinity peptides for a particular target." Mycroarray entered the target-capture market last year.
The firm also makes and sells custom arrays for gene expression studies, mostly for bacteria. It offers hundreds of catalog arrays for bacteria, almost 50 for archaea, and a dozen for eukaryotes.
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