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RedStorm Exploits Thermodynamics to Predict Au Naturel Protein Behavior

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RedStorm Scientific is hoping to take the structure prediction world by storm by adding a dose of realism to the current mix of computational approaches.

Proteins aren’t static structures — they bend, wiggle, and squirm — but most algorithms for predicting protein behavior assume that the molecules fold into rigid, unchanging forms. RedStorm is betting that its Fyrestar technology, which accounts for the dynamic behavior of proteins using a thermodynamics-based approach, offers a more accurate means of modeling and designing protein-protein and protein-drug interactions.

The Houston, Texas-based company formally launched in September 2002, but has been readying the Fyrestar technology for commercialization for over two years, said Karin Maxson, director of product development. The software is built upon an algorithm called Corex licensed from the lab of RedStorm co-founder and CSO Vincent Hilser, a theoretical biophysicist at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. As part of the licensing agreement, RedStorm has access to UTMB’s nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray crystallography equipment. RedStorm has also secured a partnership with GSE Systems, a software company with clients in the energy and process industries. RedStorm is using GSE’s simulation software and graphical user interface for the commercial version of Fyrestar in exchange for an undisclosed amount of funding.

The finished product uses a combination of theoretical and computational methods to model what Maxson described as “ensembles” of protein conformations — the more than 1040 possible structures that a protein can adopt. “The sum total of all that gives us a really good picture of how the protein behaves,” Maxson said. The result, she said, is a better understanding of the protein’s behavior in solution as well as its biological activity and properties such as immunogenicity, aggregation, and stability.

While small and young, the 10-person company is counting on the scientific novelty of its technology to help it compete in a market that includes companies like Syrrx, Structural Genomix, and the soon-to-merge Structural Bioinformatics and GeneFormatics. The tiny firm boasts two Nobel laureates on its scientific advisory board: Roald Hoffman of Cornell University (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981); and Sheldon Glashow of Boston University (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1979). RedStorm also began a new scientific collaboration in early January with Virgil Woods’ lab at the University of California, San Diego. Woods, an associate professor of medicine, is using Fyrestar in combination with UCSD’s Enhanced Deuterium Exchange Mass Spectroscopy technology to enhance his work in high-throughput protein structure determination.

Ultimately, however, the company is targeting the large pharmaceutical and biotech market for the Fyrestar platform, positioning it as a next-generation tool for rational drug design.

With a small amount of seed funding on hand, along with a modest revenue stream, RedStorm is seeking additional funding, “but we’re hoping to count on revenue instead of venture capital money,” Maxson said.

— BT

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