German membrane protein-screening company IonGate Biosciences last week announced that a researcher at the University of Calgary in Alberta studying transport proteins has bought one of its Surface Electrogenic Event Readers, making it the first time the firm has sold a unit in North America.
Jonathan Lytton, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, will use the technology in place of more time-consuming isolated membrane preparations to characterize the properties of specific sodium/calcium exchanger isoforms by measuring the activity of membrane transporters that move calcium across membranes in HEK293 cells, specifically in exchange with sodium ions.
“Due to our geographical location in Frankfurt, Germany, we were already ahead in our marketing activities with sales of SURFE2R instruments to various academic groups throughout Germany, Austria, and Italy, as well as Sanofi-Aventis in Germany and another pharma firm located in Scandinavia,” Carsten Haber, a US scientific consultant for IonGate, wrote in an e-mail to CBA News.
Haber also said the fact that the scientific interest in transporter research and IonGate’s label- and cell-free electrophysiology method is now beginning to resonate within North America is considered an important milestone for the company.
“We are…in discussions with a number of pharmaceutical companies in the US and Canada,” Haber said. He added that IonGate expects these companies to purchase SURFE2R technology in the near future.
He also said that the company is working with a US-based sales consultant and is in the process of setting up a “physical presence” in the US, primarily to support new customers in North America.
The analytical principle developed by IonGate, namely a cell- and label-free approach to characterize biological transporters on the basis of substrate-related electrogenic currents, can still be considered a “first-of-its-kind” technology, said Haber.
“The advantage of this instrument [over isolated membrane preparations], from our point of view, is that we can take very simple preparations and apply them to what they call the sensor on their instrument, and we can do repeated and robust assays that give us a high signal-to-noise ratio in a simple manner and a quick way,” Lytton told CBA News this week.
In some cases, the isoforms his team plans to study have never been measured functionally before, and IonGate’s tool “provides a unique opportunity that we did not have with either whole-cell or membrane preparations,” he added.
He said he hopes data from the research will shed light on the distinct biological roles that different sodium/calcium exchangers play in both cardiac and neuronal function.
The technology “is well suited for use in identifying and characterizing inhibitors of these proteins,” Lytton said.
Room to Grow
Before his team bought the SURFE2R One, which he said lists for €70,000 ($102,000), Lytton and his team typically used either whole-cell or isolated membrane fraction-type assays, both of which have certain limitations, Lytton said.
“The SURFE2R technology provides a unique opportunity that we did not have with either whole cell or membrane preparations.”
“The whole-cell assay for example, are restricting in the sense that, typically, you only have access to one side of the cell membrane, whereas you would like to be able to control things on both sides of the membrane,” he explained.
The team also felt that it needed a system that would allow it to move toward higher-throughput-type screening applications, said Lytton. Though the SURFE2R was not designed for HTS applications, IonGate markets an HTS-capable SURFE2R Workstation, which offers the same technology but in a 96-well format combined with automated solution handling.
“It’s a stepwise progression” toward reaching high throughput, he said.
Competition in a wider sense may come from other electrophysiology methods such as patch clamp, provided it is sensitive enough for transporters, radioactive flux methods, and also fluorescence based transporter assays, Haber said.
Lytton said that he and his colleagues considered other fluorescent plate reader technologies to characterize sodium/calcium exchanger isoforms, but these kinds of tools tend to be much more expensive than IonGate’s SURFE2R Workstation. They also tend to be a little less robust in terms of their operation because researchers rely on live cells.
According to Lytton, high-throughput fluorescent plate reader technologies would be suitable for only a subset of the things that he and his team think they can do with the SURFE2R.
“What we have found so far is that the learning and training curves for the SURFE2R One are perhaps a little steeper than those of our other technologies,” said Lytton. He said that his team believes the potential usefulness of the platform will outweigh this fact.
“With any technology, of course, you have to apply it in an appropriate setting,” said Lytton.
Haber said that for IonGate, “Staying competitive in a wider sense means that IonGate will continue to roll out SURFE2R assays for more transporters and ligand-gated ion channels, therefore providing customers with a sensitive, robust, and high-throughput alternative to screen for inhibitors or enhancers, identify substrates, or test for transport activities of investigative compounds.”