By Ben Butkus
The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute yesterday announced the formation of Omic Biosystems, a new spinout company formed to commercialize proteomics technology developed by UMBI researchers.
Omic is the second spinout company formed by UMBI in as many months, even as the institute, which is part of the University System of Maryland, is in the process of transitioning various components of its operations to other UM campuses in a bid to maximize research collaborations and boost external funding.
As such, USM and UM-College Park will likely be responsible for eventually tracking the commercial progress of Omic's technology since UMBI's Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, or CARB, where the technology was invented, is expected to become a part of UM-College Park.
Omic's technology was invented in the laboratory of Shuwei Li, an assistant professor at UMBI's CARB and an adjunct assistant professor of molecular and cell biology at UM-College Park.
The technology, dubbed deuterium isobaric amine reactive tags, or DiART, uses "novel protein-tagging designs coupled with advanced sample preparation methods" and mass spectrometry to characterize and quantify "large numbers of proteins in a single experiment," UMBI said.
The institute added that the technology improves upon conventional protein biochemistry where either total protein concentrations or small numbers of individual proteins are analyzed in each assay.
"The immediate market impact of this technology is its utility in biomarker discoveries," Jonathan Gottlieb, director of technology transfer and commercialization for UMBI, said in a statement.
"Its broader impact will facilitate the translation of genomic and proteomic information into relevant clinical information that can be applied to new drug discovery and clinical diagnostics," Gottlieb added.
Feng Tao, a former principal scientist for life science tools shop Pressure Biosciences, founded Omic along with Li. Tao will serve as CEO of the startup.
UMBI said that it was recently awarded a grant, the amount of which has not been disclosed, from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation under that organization's TechStart program to explore the commercial potential of the DiART technology.
In addition, Omic has received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation worth $150,000 to further vet the commercial potential of the technology. The grant began on Sept. 10 and lasts one year.
According to the abstract of the NSF grant, the DiART technology aims to identify and quantify low-abundance biologically functional proteins in small, dilute or archived samples using mass spec.
The specific reagents being developed by the company include "activity-based protein profiling probes, cleavable high-affinity solid support conjugation for quantitative target enrichment, and stable isotopic labels for mass-spec identification and quantification," according to the abstract.
Under the SBIR grant, Omic will also attempt to optimize a sample-preparation method for the ABPP probe labeling. According to the grant, Omic will make commercial kits available to proteomics laboratories once it completes the Phase I study and a Phase II study on broader ABPP labeling applications.
In a statement, Tao said that Omic's reagents and other tools will "help solve important bottleneck problems" in proteomics. Li elaborated by saying that his laboratory has demonstrated that the DiART technology can "significantly reduce the cost of quantitative proteomic studies while maintaining high-quality data and results."
Omic is the second spinout launched by UMBI this fiscal year, which began on July 1. In August, the institute said that it had exclusively licensed a portfolio of patents covering metal-enhanced fluorescence technology to startup Plasmonix, which is commercializing the technology for a number of life-science and other applications (see BTW, 8/19/2009).
Financial details of the Plasmonix deal were not disclosed, except for the fact that UMBI would receive payments for the technology based on specific funding milestones reached by the company.
Gottlieb told BTW at the time that the recipient of those payments would eventually be the USM due to UMBI's breakup; as well as UM-Baltimore County, which is expected to absorb UMBI's Institute of Fluorescence, where the metal-enhanced fluorescence technology was discovered.
It is also unclear whether Omic and UMBI have consummated a licensing deal for the DiART technology, or what the details of such an agreement would entail.
However, assuming the company negotiates a similar deal to that of Plasmonix, the USM and UM-College Park would likely assume responsibility for executing the company's IP, because the CARB facility at which Li is a faculty member is expected to become a part of the College Park campus, according to a June report in BTW sister publication BioRegion News.
UMBI was founded in 1985. The USM Board of Regents decided to disband the institute following a study by the board released earlier this year that cited flaws such as a lack of graduate and undergraduate students involved in UMBI research; isolation among UMBI’s research centers; an inability to scale up institute programs for greater efficiency; and administrative inefficiencies.
Key goals of the restructuring include boosting research collaboration activity and access to outside research funding; yielding a higher level of technology transfer, commercialization, and business start-ups; and advancing economic development in the state, the system said.