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UCB Named Proof-of-Concept Partner for Oxford Genome Sciences New Database, Business Model


Oxford Genome Sciences said last week that UCB, a biopharmaceutical firm based in Belgium, has licensed its Oxford Genome Anatomy Project (OGAP) database — the first such deal for OGeS since it launched 18 months ago.

OGeS was founded by several members of Oxford GlycoSciences' proteomics team after Celltech acquired that firm in December 2003. OGeS CEO Christian Rohlff and several of his OGS colleagues acquired a suite of technology, data, and intellectual property that Celltech jettisoned at the time of the OGS acquisition [BioInform 11-24-03].

That portfolio of tools included the Protein Atlas database developed by Confirmant, a joint venture between OGS and British telecom Marconi that was founded in 2001. Confirmant never gained much traction in the market, signing only one paying customer before the Celltech acquisition, but Rohlff, formerly director of proteome research collaborations at OGS, told BioInform that OGeS has made a few changes that it expects will help the resurrected database fare a bit better in this incarnation.

OGAP, which includes more than a million peptide sequences mapped to around 16,000 genes and more than million SNPs, has "evolved" a bit since its Protein Atlas days, Rohlff said. "Initially, when we worked on the Confirmant idea, we were mainly concerned with helping to curate the genome," he said. Now, however — and particularly within the last year — "people have become so excited about biomarkers," so the company has put a great deal of thought into "how this can translate into a new business model."

"We structured the database in the context of integrating the genome and the proteome, where we have the peptide coverage for each gene, and we can immediately see which SNPs have an impact."

The industry's focus on biomarkers, combined with the rapid accumulation of new genomic and proteomic data, drove the company to expand the scope of the database so that it now addresses "the interface of protein expression data and SNP data," Rohlff said.

"Two years ago, there were about 2 million SNPs in the public domain, and that has gone up to about 8 million," he said. "And if you look into the individual proteins that we have, where you might have seen 10 or 20 SNPs before, we now see up to 100 SNPs for each gene or protein. So clearly, you need to think about how to focus on the important and relevant ones, and so we structured the database in the context of integrating the genome and the proteome, where we have the peptide coverage for each gene, and we can immediately see which SNPs have an impact — which might be non-synonymous, hence causing amino acid changes — and which of these are relevant for the disease."

As an example, Rohlff said, in a typical oncology research project with anywhere between 10 and 25 candidate biomarkers, "I would say for 50 percent of these candidate biomarkers, we know from the database that we are dealing with splice variants, and that there is some level of variance that has an impact on the way that the protein is being spliced or how particular post-translational modifications are being altered by these SNPs."

Rohlff estimated that the information in the OGAP database could reduce the time required for biomarker validation from several years to 12 to 18 months, although he acknowledged that it's still too early to guarantee that kind of time savings. "We don't want to say too much before we can point to case studies," he said.

OGeS was launched as a proteomics services shop, and the company has so far used the OGAP database primarily as part of its services offering. But the UCB agreement signals the "next stage" of the company's business model, Rohlff said, which will focus more on generating revenues from database licensing deals. UCB is an "early-access, proof-of-concept partner" under this new model, he said.

The company announced a biomarker discovery collaboration with Bayer HealthCare Diagnostics in March, and Rohlff said that OGeS has another collaboration with an undisclosed drug discovery firm, as well as several new partnerships that it expects to announce over the next few months.

OGeS has closed two rounds of venture capital funding, but Rohlff declined to say how much the company has raised. The UK's South East Growth Fund was the lead investor in both financing rounds, joined by Oxford Capital Partners in the most recent round in April.

The firm employs 25 people, and intends to expand "significantly" over the next year, Rohlff said. OGeS plans to add new SNP data to OGAP on a monthly basis, with quarterly updates scheduled for the protein side of the database. The company also plans to add genomic data for several new species of interest to preclinical research, including mouse, dog, zebrafish, and Drosophila.

— Bernadette Toner ([email protected])  

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