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Protagen Raises $12.7M to Support Protein Array Diagnostic Development

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By Justin Petrone

German protein array firm Protagen this week announced it has closed a €10 million ($12.7 million) private financing round, which it plans to use to expand its diagnostics business and to develop serum-based assays for the early detection of multiple sclerosis and prostate cancer.

Dortmund-based Protagen received € 3.7 million in the first tranche of the investment in August 2009 (BAN 8/4/2009). The current tranche completes the €10 million round.

Dusseldorf-based NRW.Bank participated as a new investor and joined existing Protagen investors MIGFonds of Munich, S-Capital Dortmund, S-Venture Capital of Dortmund, and KfW of Bonn.

Protagen CEO Stefan Müllner said in a statement that the new financing will enable Protagen to complete its current development programs until market launch and to "evolve to a preferred partner for out-licensing opportunities within the diagnostic industry."

He did not respond to an e-mail seeking additional comment in time for this article.

The firm said it will use the capital to expand its diagnostics business and clinically validate certain diagnostic marker proteins. In addition to its MS and prostate cancer tests, it said it will use its UniArray technology for "other attractive indications for the development of serum-based molecular diagnostics."

Protagen's 150-marker MS panel, based on its UniArray platform, is being positioned as a companion diagnostic for drug-development programs, as well as with other companies interested in using it to stratify patients for drug-development research. The company's main development partners for the MS assay are researchers at the University Clinic Bochum and the Hospital Lüdenscheid, both in Germany.

The firm has also worked with researchers at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria to develop a test that will confirm prostate cancer in suspected cases, as well as a separate assay to distinguish prostate cancer from prostatitis.

Protagen's UniArray chips allow users to survey up to 400 recombinant human proteins for quantitative analysis of antibody binding. The company also offers its technology to clients through its protein services business.

"We have defined our clinical partners for validation of marker sets and we will go through studies with them," Müllner said, adding that Protagen will work with international centers in the US and Europe to evaluate its marker sets for eventual clinical use.

"We will use these funds to pay for those samples and to pay our collaboration partners," he said. "There are also development costs for consultants and materials to go forward with diagnostic development for prostate cancer and MS."

Müllner told BioArray News last year that Protagen expects its diagnostic panels to be brought to market by larger partner companies. "We will develop panels of markers, validate the panel with clinical studies, and then look for co-development and licensing partners for panels in prostate cancer and MS," Müllner said at the time (BAN 8/4/2009).

Protagen last year also announced a partnership with the OncoTyrol consortium to identify markers that indicate an inflamed prostate. OncoTyrol, also called the K1 project for Personalized Cancer Medicine, includes researchers at the Biomedical Campus Innsbruck in Austria and other international academic and industrial partners.

According to its statement this week, the company is developing diagnostics for prostate, breast, ovarian, colon, and pancreatic cancer, in addition to panels for MS, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s diseases.

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