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Michigan Screening Center Joins Forces with GLS to Add HCS to Expanded Services Menu

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Global Lifescience Solutions and the Michigan High-Throughput Screening Center are partnering to give biotech and pharmaceutical companies access to high-content screening services offered by GLS and high-throughput screening services offered by the MHTSC. 
 
GLS and MHTSC will work together to help clients identify potential lead compounds for drug discovery. Services offered under the partnership will include prescreening services to determine which targets should be fully screened; assay development; and follow-up services to optimize leads. The partners will also use HCS to examine multiple cellular targets and parameters in a large number of individually imaged cells and quantitatively assess the data.     
 
The concept is for clients to get the same menu of services from both organizations, GLS General Manager Aline Lindbeck told CBA News this week. Under the terms of the agreement, current customers of GLS or MHTSC will continue to work with those organizations, but will have access to the services of the other group.
 
Lindbeck said that GLS and MHTSC scientists will collaborate closely on assay development. “We’ll likely be doing the first set of assays on a large number of compounds in high throughput, then we would follow up on specific compounds that our client is interested in with high content over at GLS,” said Rob Kilkuskie, senior director of the MHTSC.
 
GLS and MHTSC have identified some potential clients and are in discussions with them, said Lindbeck and Mark Jackson, a senior scientist at GLS. Both declined to elaborate further, however, or to discuss the financial details of the agreement.   
 
Getting Started
 
GLS, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a contract research subsidiary of nonprofit public health and safety firm NSF International, while MHTSC is a nonprofit CRO based at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
 
Officials of the two organizations held an introductory meeting in January 2006, Lindbeck said, but noted that at the time, MHTSC was just getting started and GLS was just getting into HCS work.
 
The companies then reconnected in March at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences annual meeting in Montreal, and in the course of their discussion, found that there was “synergy” between them, said Lindbeck.
 
Last month, Lindbeck told CBA News that GLS had been collaborating with “a company that focuses on high-throughput screening” for about three months, but she declined to disclose the identity of the partner at the time (see CBA News, 7/13/07).
 
“We found that we have clients that are looking for HTS work and they have clients that are looking for HCS work, so we thought it would make sense for us to work together,” she said this week.
 
In addition, the fact that MHTSC and GLS are both located in Michigan makes collaboration that much easier, said Jackson.
 
Jackson went on to say that as MHTSC’s business has grown, its scientists have felt that it would benefit from being able to offer clients HCS. However, as he pointed out, MHTSC is not-for-profit, as is GLS, and HCS equipment and technology is quite expensive.
 
When MHTSC officials had a chance to meet with GLS in Montreal, the two groups decided that it would be a good idea to enter into a collaborative agreement where the MHTSC could use GLS’ HCS equipment and GLS could use the MHTSC’s HTS technology, Jackson said.
 
“Its really a win-win for both companies and for the state of Michigan, because we are not duplicating equipment and we are optimizing the use and talents of both groups for the greater good of the life sciences community,” said Jackson.
 
When In Doubt, Source It Out
 
Kathy Johnson, director of administration and business development for MHTSC, said that the center had recently identified a strong demand in the marketplace for an expanded screening services menu. Based on discussions with potential clients, as well as questionnaires and other feedback, MHTSC found that most pharmaceutical and biotech clients prefer a CRO that can offer both HTS and HCS, in addition to assay development, she said.
 
Johnson said that this is particularly true of larger pharmaceutical companies, as they are increasingly outsourcing drug discovery services like HCS and HTS.
 
Kilkuskie said that when MHTSC was founded around two and a half years ago, “We wanted to provide access to HTS to those who couldn’t make the investment that we had in terms of capital, compound libraries, and robotic equipment. The idea was that we would serve the small biotech companies or university researchers.”
 
However, MHTSC has found that there is also interest in its services on the part of large pharmaceutical companies, who, Kilkuskie said, “obviously already have the expertise and equipment, but are looking to outsource some parts of their operations to other companies.”
 
Open for Business
 
MHTSC’s founders know a thing or two about pharma. They were all previously employed at Pfizer’s Kalamazoo research and development facility, which was hit by massive layoffs after Pfizer bought Pharmacia in 2003.
 
Many who lost their jobs took that opportunity to start new businesses, and several CROs and biotechs are now located in Kalamazoo, including MHTSC. The center received start-up funding from Kalamazoo Valley Community College, so it is not an independent operation.
 
Kilkuskie said that KVCC funded the center as part of a broad economic development mission. The goal was not so much to create jobs at MHTSC itself, he said, but to help other Michigan-based pharmaceutical and biotech companies get started by expanding access to HTS technology.
 

“We’ll likely be doing the first set of assays on a large number of compounds in high throughput, then we would follow up on specific compounds that our client is interested in with high content over at GLS.”

“We started working with companies in Michigan, and now we are branching out to work with for-profit companies, universities, and nonprofit research institutions nationwide,” said Johnson.
 
MHTSC has four scientists in its 5,000-square-foot lab, which offers plenty of room to expand if the demand for HTS increases, Johnson said.  
 
“Over the next several years, we want to be able to offer our clients as many different services as possible,” said Kilkuskie, noting that the group is working with additional partners in other service areas, although he declined to provide further details.
 
Kilkuskie said that MHTSC is a member of the Core Technology Alliance, a consortium of core laboratories that offers genomics, proteomics, structural biology, bioinformatics, bio-imaging, animal model development, and antibody technology services to researchers affiliated with Michigan-based universities, private research institutes, and biotech or pharmaceutical companies.
 
Start-up funding for the CTA was provided by the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor Initiative, which is now known as the Technology Tri-Corridor Initiative.
 
The alliance operates as a not-for-profit, non-stock membership organization owned equally by founding members Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and the Van Andel Research Institute, in addition to non-founding members Western Michigan University and KVCC.
 
Technology at the 10 CTA facilities is available on a fee-for-service basis.
 
“When we started our operation, the CTA asked us to join because they felt that having HTS was going to expand their footprint,” said Kilkuskie. He said that through the CTA, MHTSC can offer clients access to many other drug-discovery services that it doesn’t provide on site.
 
John Greenfield, executive director of the CTA, said he believes that Michigan is the only state to have such a network of high-tech laboratories. He said that the organization plans to continue growing its client base through marketing and expanding its range of services by adding additional core facilities.
 
The alliance is currently in discussions with two to three potential member institutions, Greenfield said. He declined to name them, however.  
 
MHTSC’s participation in the CTA is among the reasons why GLS feels that the partnership between itself and MHTSC will be successful, Jackson said. Specifically, GLS is hoping to provide HCS services to other CTA members and their clients.

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