BayPoint Biosystems, a biomarker-discovery spinout of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said last week that it has obtained exclusive worldwide commercial rights from the cancer center to proteomic technologies and clinical biomarkers believed to predict therapeutic response to certain ovarian and breast cancer drugs.
BayPoint started its operations about a year ago after signing an option agreement with MD Anderson to license the IP, and has spent the last year or so hammering out the details of the deal, according to a company official.
The company, which eventually hopes to develop targeted therapeutics based on the markers, has thus far subsisted on research contracts and partnerships with larger pharmaceutical companies that have sought to use its proteomics platform for biomarker discovery, which themselves are based on the patents, according to a company official.
During its first year out of MD Anderson, BayPoint has resided in a University of Texas-affiliated research facility that has in recent years operated as an incubator of sorts for companies spun out of the member academic and research institutions that comprise the behemoth Texas Medical Center campus in Houston.
Gordon Mills, director of the Kleberg Center for Molecular Markers at MD Anderson, developed BayPoint’s core technology. According to James Erickson, founder, president, and CEO of BayPoint, its licensing agreement with MD Anderson is for a pair of patents on which Mills is the primary inventor that cover certain aspects of the company’s technology platform.
“It’s a pretty simple way to analyze proteins in that it’s basically a dot blot where you spot out lysates on nitrocellulose and probe them with an antibody,” Erickson told BTW.
Though Erickson conceded that “that in and of itself is unremarkable,” and that researchers have been performing that kind of research “for 30 years,” the key to BayPoint’s platform is its accuracy, reproducibility, and reliability.
“This is really the key to identifying and validating clinical, useful biomarkers,” he said. “It’s one thing to spot a protein, but to really correlate the expression of certain proteins with a clinical outcome is kind of challenging.”
Erickson said that the ability to accurately and reproducibly quantitate protein biomarkers is enabled by a software platform developed by Gordon called SuperCurve, and by strict quality control of the antibodies used to detect proteins from samples.
“I’ve always preferred the model of making a little money while you’re developing your own products.”
“A lot of catalog antibodies don’t really do what they say … but we had some very stringent criteria for what we would call a validated antibody,” Erickson said. “Basically we had to screen through about 7,000 commercially available antibodies to find the first 35 that we considered validated. This is a step that most people doing immunodetection of proteins don’t go through. We have a lot of faith that when we see a signal or a loss of signal, it’s real.”
Along with these proteomic techniques, the MD Anderson patents cover panels of clinical biomarkers for ovarian cancer and breast cancer that were uncovered and validated using the detection platform.
BayPoint’s plan is to bring the biomarker panels to market as homebrew tests for CLIA-certified laboratories, Erickson said. “That’s how we will get it out onto the market, after which we will conduct an FDA-approved clinical trial,” he said. “We are actually going to use the platform as our technology to measure clinical samples. But the patents on the biomarkers themselves are platform-agnostic. For the FDA trials we might adapt it to a more standard clinical chemistry platform.”
Meantime, BayPoint is financing its operations by using the biomarker discovery platform to analyze clinical and other samples for pharmaceutical companies.
Erickson said that BayPoint is currently providing services for three of the top five pharma companies in the world, with a fourth signed up. He also said that BayPoint is in discussions to provide its services to five additional companies in the US and Japan. He declined to disclose the names of any of the companies.
“This is a classic situation where they don’t want to set up this infrastructure in-house,” Erickson said. “They want to just outsource it.”
Financial details of the licensing agreement between BayPoint and MD Anderson have not been disclosed.
According to Erickson, he and Mills, who are longtime collaborators, decided to establish a company based on the technology primarily because of its potential to bring in near-term revenue that could be used to finance their longer-term goals of commercializing their own targeted cancer therapeutics.
“The reason [Gordon] spent five years developing the technology was that he was very interested in predicting clinical response of a tumor,” Erickson said. “He spent a lot of time working with transcriptional profiling and other proteomic methods and really couldn’t find anything that was working. So he decided to develop a tech that would meet his needs in terms of being able to identify markers that were actually predictive.
“We got the platform up and running, and he had some preliminary clinical data suggesting it was working and biomarkers could be found,” Erickson added. “That was the impetus to write up a business plan and incorporate a company around the technology.”
Erickson said that BayPoint has essentially bootstrapped itself on its pharmaceutical partnerships to this point, but has finally begun the process of seeking investors to participate in a Series A financing round. “We’ve already added a lot of value to the company on our own, which is nice.”
The VC hunt is a recent departure for BayPoint, which joins a growing cadre of university spinouts that have been able to survive by basing their business on a platform discovery technology. Such platforms allow the firms to generate revenue to bridge the so-called funding gap while mostly foregoing difficult-to-get venture capital.
“I’ve worked at a lot of startups in my career,” Erickson said. “I’ve always preferred the model of making a little money while you’re developing your own products. This has allowed us to do a lot of exciting things with the company that, if we were VC backed, we might not have been able to do.”
BayPoint has also been nurtured by MD Anderson and the University of Texas as a resident of the UT Research Park, specifically, the South Campus Research complex, a series of laboratory buildings located about a mile south of the MD Anderson main campus in Houston designed to provide space for early-stage translational research and, more recently, university spinouts.
In fact, Erickson said that BayPoint is the first university spinout to incubate in the South Campus Research center.
“MD Anderson and a lot of institutions and hospitals in Houston are part of [the] Texas Medical Center, which is a huge complex,” Erickson said. “It’s based on a land grant from the state, and by law everything on the land has to be not-for-profit.” He said that the South Campus Research facility, located on private land, works around that edict.
“A company could not do this before, because you’d be a for-profit entity operating on the Texas Medical Center campus,” he said. “This is going to be the new model for startups at MD Anderson going forward.”
Calls to MD Anderson’s Office of Technology Commercialization seeking comment were not returned.