DiscoverX this week launched a custom labeling and profiling service for kinases and proteases based on its flagship Enzyme Fragment Complementation (EFC) assay technology, marking the company's first foray into screening and profiling services.
The announcement comes two weeks after DiscoverX signed on GE Healthcare to exclusively distribute its EFC-based HitHunter assay kits — a move that DiscoverX said was expected to free up resources for other endeavors such as collaborations and R&D (see CBA News, 5/26/2006).
It appears that in the short term, however, DiscoverX will shift its resources to building its service play — a move that it hopes will drive further acceptance of the relatively nascent EFC technology, a DiscoverX executive told CBA News this week.
Keith Olson, DiscoverX's vice president of product and market development, said that DiscoverX has been offering custom assay development since its inception, but that full-blown kinase and protease profiling services are new for the company.
Many small- to mid-size biotech companies similarly offer kinase and protease profiling services, and several larger companies have also recently entered the market or expanded their offerings, including Invitrogen, Serologicals (currently being acquired by Millipore), and Caliper unit Novascreen.
"One of the primary goals of this is to really help drive the adoption of this new approach to kinase screening."
Olsen said that what sets DiscoverX's technology apart is its EFC technology — in particular, its ability to work with "unactive" kinases, or enzymes that are not active, but can be activated upon phosphorylation by another enzyme. This is in contrast to inactive kinases, which are not active under any circumstances, or always active kinases.
Unactive kinases are becoming increasingly important in drug discovery, DiscoverX said. Serologicals' Upstate group also offers kits for profiling unactive kinases, which it calls "zombie kinases." According to the company's website, unactive kinases are "once-neglected forms of kinases [that] have emerged as important biochemical tools for basic research and drug discovery." One of the first reported examples of a compound that targets the unactive form of a kinase is Novartis' chronic myeloid leukemia drug Gleevec, the website states.
"The highlight of DiscoverX's technology is its ability to work against unactive kinases," Olson said. "As such, there are probably two ways a customer would want to work with this. One would be if they have a brand new small molecule, and they want us to do a chemical conjugation so it would work in our assay format.
The second way, Olson said, is if a customer had an unactive kinase of interest and wanted to profile it against a panel of small molecules that DiscoverX has already conjugated to its enzyme donor tag, the peptide that complements β-galactosidase in the EFC assay.
"So that's a profiling service — they send us their unknown kinase, and we can deliver back to them a small molecule that will bind to the active ATP binding pocket and give them a functional assay," Olson said.
The market for the profiling services is "pretty much anybody doing kinase screening," Olson said. "Certainly big pharma [companies] have been the leaders in beginning to look at unactive kinases, but some of the specialty biotech companies, like Millennium and Vertex, are also very interested in this."
Besides direct revenues from service agreements, DiscoverX hopes that it can leverage its service play to further validate its EFC technology in customers' eyes, and therefore boost direct sales of its assay kits.
"We've got one of the few, if not the only, commercially available assay for unactive enzymes, so one of the primary goals of this … is to really help drive the adoption of this new approach to kinase screening," Olson said.
"With any new technology, if there is a time barrier or knowledge barrier that slows its adoption, then people are less likely to try your kit or commit to it until they know more about it," Olson added. "So if you can offer a service that shows them how to validate it, and gives them some profile information that might have taken them a bit of time to generate on their own, then hopefully you'll get them to adopt your technology more quickly."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])