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Protagen Hopes to Have Diagnostics Deal Inked by End of 2010, Says CEO

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By Justin Petrone

Protagen, a German company specializing in array-based protein analysis, expects to sign by the end of next year one or more diagnostic partnerships related to its ongoing research programs in multiple sclerosis and prostate cancer, CEO Stefan Müllner said last week.

Müllner told BioArray News that Protagen has shifted its business strategy from developing tests on its UniArray protein chip platform to discovering panels of biomarkers that can later be brought to market by bigger firms.

"We wanted to develop tests on our own, but we have now decided for our MS and prostate cancer products to partner with diagnostic companies and to let them do the final developing and marketing on their platform because we are not sure if our biochip platform will be the right one for protein diagnostics," Müllner said. "We hope that by the end of 2010 we will have a deal in this field," he added.

Founded in 1997, Dortmund-based Protagen specials in protein analysis products and services, including its UniArray family of chips that allow users to survey up to 400 recombinant human proteins for quantitative analysis of antibody binding.

Over the past year, the company has revised its diagnostics strategy. While former CEO Christoph Hüls told BioArray News in April 2008 that Protagen's future lay in companion diagnostics and partnering with pharmaceutical companies, Müllner, who took over in August 2008, set the company on a course towards developing and eventually launching its own tests (see BAN 4/8/2008, BAN 10/14/2008).

The shift in the company's strategy, Müllner said, is that it no longer envisions going to market alone, at least with its MS and prostate cancer panels. "We will develop panels of markers, validate the panel with clinical studies, and then look for co-development and licensing partners for panels in prostate cancer and MS," he said.

Protagen has three programs that might bear diagnostic fruit in the next few years in MS, prostate cancer, and prostatitis. The closest to market is a panel for early-stage detection of MS. Müllner said Protagen is in discussions with pharmas that wish to use the company's 150-marker panel in companion diagnostics for drug-development programs, as well as with other companies interested in using it to stratify patients for treatment. Protagen's main development partners for the MS assay are researchers at the University Clinic Bochum and the Hospital Lüdenscheid, both in Germany.

Protagen is also working with researchers at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria to develop a test that will confirm prostate cancer in suspected cases, as well as a separate assay to distinguish prostate cancer patients from those with prostatitis. Both tests are being developed to help clinicians avoid the "stressful, inconvenient, and expensive" biopsies that are currently used to confirm the disease, Müllner said.

Recently, Protagen also announced a partnership with the OncoTyrol consortium to identify markers that indicate an inflamed prostate. OncoTyrol, also called the K1 project for Personalized Cancer Medicine, includes researchers at the Biomedical Campus Innsbruck in Austria and other international academic and industrial partners.