BioSeek this week said that it will apply its BioMAP technology to help Japanese drug maker Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma differentiate compounds, develop leads, and select drug candidates in the areas of inflammation and metabolic diseases.
This marks BioSeek’s first deal in Japan, Bioseek CEO Michael Venuti told CBA News this week. “It takes a long time to cultivate business relationships in Japan, and as BioSeek has passed the test, so to speak, with DSP, it is hoping that [this agreement] gets it a little more notoriety with the other [undisclosed] Japanese pharma companies that it has been talking to.”
Discussing BioMAP, DSP spokeswoman Atsuko Higuchi told CBA News this week in an e-mail that “no other companies offer a technology that provides highly reproducible and reliable results in a broad range of human primary cells.”
DSP began to discuss collaborating with BioSeek after being introduced to the company and its technology through CTC Laboratory Systems, Higuchi said. CTC, a subsidiary of Itochu Techno-Solutions, helped close the deal.
Venuti said that because this is a benchmarking study, DSP will make no milestone payments to BioSeek, which is instead being paid up front for the work. At the end of the agreement, DSP has the option to extend its access to BioMAP, which would be under a milestone relationship.
“You can sort of generalize that [business model] to everyone that BioSeek is working with now,” Venuti said. He said that the company wants to convert all of its relationships to collaborations.
Hitting the Benchmark
Venuti, who joined BioSeek as CEO in November (see CBA News, 11/16/07), said he thinks that any of BioSeek’s relationships are now going to start out with a benchmarking study. “BioSeek takes a key compound(s) that a company has that it believes has biological activity, and essentially calibrates the compound(s) using the BioMAP systems,” he said.
The terms of these relationships are constructed so that at the end of the benchmarking study, the pharmaceutical or biotech company will have an option to enter into a longer-term relationship with BioSeek.
“BioSeek gives the sponsor company that decision to make after it sees the data,” Venuti said. “This model is getting a lot of traction in the discussions that we are having with small, medium, and large pharma companies. This is a model that I think you’ll see over the next six months or so — the announcement of a number of deals that have those kinds of terms as their key elements.”
He continued by saying that such a model works when a company has a proprietary technology. “Galapagos is a very good example of this. It has taken its adeno siRNA platform, which is proprietary and patent-protected, and it has done target discovery all the way through lead generation and IND candidate nomination for companies such as [GlaxoSmithKline] and [Johnson & Johnson],” he said.
Venuti mentioned that Galapagos has leveraged its SilenceSelect technology, along with its ability to manipulate phenotypes in human cell lines in its laboratories, to negotiate deals that have had $750 million to over $1 billion in value for the company with significant upfront payments.
“I think that this year, Galapagos is doing $10 million in milestone payments alone,” he said. Venuti also said he believes that BioSeek falls into the same category as Galapagos, in that it has strong patents around its BioMAP platform.
Galapagos declined to comment for this article.
The BioMAP output helps researchers select compounds for further development and optimize compounds that are still with the medicinal chemists, said Venuti. “That progression of activity from hit to lead to candidate is something that BioSeek is trying to enable.”
One has to select many fewer molecules for animal studies than one started with, because such studies take a long time and require that the compound be scaled up, Venuti said.
“The BioMAP system provides an intermediate step, so that researchers can go from their primary screen, whatever that might be, into this human primary cell system, and get a fairly broad picture of the actions of their compound, without having to go directly to animal studies.” This information helps them prioritize leads and select compounds for toxicology and efficacy studies.
“This marks BioSeek’s first entry into Japan.”
It’s a common theme that BioSeek is seeing now, said Venuti. “People are starting to realize that this is an approach to systems biology that gets them out of just looking at the transcriptional profiles of the actions of compounds, which has been common during the past few years,” he said.
Venuti also said that researchers are realizing that compounds that are identified and optimized against single biological targets often have many other activities. He pointed out that people try to address this issue by screening through large panels of individual targets at outside providers.
“For example, they may screen against a panel of 200 kinases or 200 other receptors to see if there is any off-target activity, but that still does not give them a picture of the composite activity of that molecule,” Venuti said. That is what the BioMAP platform provides.
“You get signals [from the BioMAP systems] that constitute efficacy, as well as signals that constitute off-target activity, and potential side effects and toxicological consequences, in human primary cells,” said Venuti.
He explained that scientists are getting more sophisticated, and they realize that nominating a compound for animal studies or preclinical studies is quite an expensive endeavor, and always has been. Venuti said that, “They can get more information about the compound if they go into human cells earlier in the process.”
Venuti said that the BioMAP systems essentially provide a composite picture with hundreds of readouts instead of, for example, a single protein readout, or a single ELISA assay, or a single kind of secreted cytokine, which is typical of the way in which human cells are used in screening.
“The BioMAP systems can matrix hundreds of readouts across a range of human primary cells, so that researchers get a more complex system of the compound and its activity,” Venuti said.
A MAP for Drug Discovery
The BioMAP platform comprises a variety of assays and detection methods such as quantum dots, ELISA, and chimeric fluorescent proteins, Ellen Berg, CSO of BioSeek, told CBA News in November (see CBA News, 12/7/07).
The company uses these methods in combination with panels from different human primary cell types in various environments that are intended to mimic an entire disease system, said Berg.
BioSeek has so far developed, optimized, and fully automated more than 20 BioMAP systems that include combinations of primary human macrophages, primary endothelial cells, Th2-type T cells, bronchial epithelial cells, mast cells, smooth muscle cells, fibroblasts, and keratinocytes, representing "disease-specific biology relevant to asthma, allergy, COPD, skin inflammation/psoriasis, arthritis, and fibrosis," according to the company's website.
In December, BioSeek said it will apply its BioMAP system to compounds developed by Belgian pharmaceutical shop UCB across a number of different target classes.
“On the BioMAP assay side, I’d like to see two to three long-term deals with pharmaceutical companies,” said Venuti. “Up until now, we’ve been kind of doing one-off contract work. [BioSeek] is looking to convert such projects from short-term contract work into more long-term agreements.”