Almost unanimously, attendees at a three-day proteomics and Protein Chips conference last week in San Diego agreed that this field is in its very early stages, with much work remaining to create methods and technologies for interrogating protein function and ascertaining their actions within biological systems. The goal is to one day have the human proteome on one chip, just as others are striving for the human genome on a single chip.
“Protein arrays are not easy to do,” said Marie-Claire Beckers, protein array team leader of Eurogentec of Ivoz-Ramet, Belgium, which specializes in DNA microarray analysis and in October launched a protein array service. The company will print antibodies, peptides, and proteins on glass; create antibody chips by peptide immunization; conduct differential expression analysis; quantify biomarkers; and perform cell capture and single-cell analysis services.
The services (http://www.eurogentec.be/code/en/product_prot_array_-plat.htm) Eurogentec is offering evolve from the infrastructure the company uses for DNA microarrays.
“Nobody is ordering quite yet, but I feel positive — they aren’t coming to the booth and saying there are three other companies who are doing this,” said Jean-Marie Francois, another member of the company’s protein array team. “The market is not there yet, but I think we have to be ready and have products in the pipeline when it is.”
Eurogentec is an early entrant into the protein chip arena, with perhaps as many as 16 companies today offering either protein-chip products or services and another 22 more queued up to enter the marketplace over the next two years, according to market research released by Select Biosciences of Sudbury, UK, and conducted by Steven Bodovitz.
The second annual study of this market, released in April, sees compound annual growth of 35 percent, yielding a $400 million marketplace by 2007 from today’s estimated $100 million market.
Bodovitz conducted his research by canvassing a number of market players and interpolating their responses to create his market model. He told BioArray News that the inclusion of Biacore of Uppsala, Sweden, in his model, as well as service-related revenues, has been subject to criticism. Biacore, which has introduced an SPR-based array chip technology, recorded revenues of $72.4 million for 2002.
“Without them, the market would be pathetic,” said Bodovitz.
Premature might be a more accurate reflection, some say.
“It’s on the verge of prime time,” said Dennis Barger, director of business development for MetriGenix of Gaithersburg, Md., which just saw its partner Infineon introduce the company’s jointly-developed “Flow-Thru Chip” system (BioArray News, April 11, 2003).
“[Proteins] are a natural evolution of our platform,” Barger said as he held up a clear plastic microarray chip, about the size of a 50 cent piece, and pointed to two ghost-like indentions in one corner of the tool. Unlike the three other reservoirs next to them, these are not interconnected via fluidics channels. They are there, he said, for future protein applications, as well as the additional ports that are available on the system’s hybridization station.
“What’s being wrestled with,” he added, “is appropriate content and assay conditions that yield good reproducibility and data.”
“What would be nice to know would be: is there an appropriate [protein] response to disease?” said Stephen Olmstead, principal research scientist for Wyeth Vaccines Research. “Everybody is trying to find the utility and reducing it to practice — how could this be most useful? We are open to new technology, when we can see it is of value to us.”
Olmstead said he was interested in one piece of technology introduced at the conference, the Perkin Elmer Piezorray, a table-top protein arrayer that will range in price from $85,000 to $120,000 and will be available for shipping in May.
The system uses a non-contact piezo-electric dispensing technology to dispense proteins for arraying.
This tool takes a step to solving the “how?” question of protein chips, but the “what” question still remains.
“Content is the big issue; You have to have meaningful content” said keynote speaker Thomas Joos of the biochemistry department of the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of T bingen, in Reutlingen, Germany.
Today’s chips, on one hand, can be designed to capture a protein to measure its presence, and on the other, can be designed to immobilize a protein to measure its function and interaction.
The problem is being able to create dynamic tools to do massively parallel assays.
“We all thought the market would be faster than it is,” said Larry Gold, chairman of the board of SomaLogic of Boulder, Colo. “I and so many others were drawn to the idea of repeating what Affymetrix did and building it as fast and as deep as you can. We missed the value of small, focused arrays that can get a lot of information from one thing. The technology got hard to get beyond 30 to 40 measurements. The more things you can measure, the better.”