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Vaccinogen Acquires Rights to Single-Cell Antibody Discovery Tech With Multi-Omics Potential

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Cancer vaccine maker Vaccinogen has acquired the rights to a single-cell platform for discovering antibodies that could be developed into a multi-omics detection technology.

Vaccinogen has entered into an agreement with Dublin City University for an exclusive two-year option to evaluate and acquire DiCast, a high-throughput, multiplex, single-cell analysis platform.

DiCast, short for direct clone analysis and selection technology, is a microcapillary-based platform that allows researchers to screen cells which produce rare and important antibodies related to immuno-oncology, but could be adapted for other applications, DiCast inventor Paul Leonard told GenomeWeb.

The technology enables "direct, multiplexed, and functional study of millions of single cells," Leonard said. "It does it in parallel in a densely packed array of bio-incubation chambers."

Leonard developed the platform to analyze libraries of cells secreting antibodies of interest, he said, but added that "you can measure basically anything" including metabolomics or transcriptomics. Researchers could even analyze bacterial cells, he suggested.

In the first stage, plates of millions of glass microcapillaries capture single cells. "Imagine a box of straws miniaturized to something the size of a microscope slide," containing between 1 million and 10 million microcapillaries, Leonard said. Next, a researcher can seal off the openings above and below the cell with a biological assay surface.

The plate can be transferred to an imaging platform for analysis using custom software that is included with the DiCast platform.

The last step involves capturing cells of interest. Leonard and his team have engineered a precision system that uses a laser to cut a tiny opening in the seal of a capillary of interest and vacuum pressure to recover the cell. The instrument's final output is a 384-well microtiter plate containing the pertinent cells.

This recovery step, along with the high-throughput, could differentiate DiCast from other genomic single-cell technologies that barcode cell lysates to create sequencing libraries, such as Fluidigm's C1 system, Wafergen's SmartChip technology, and Cellular Research's upcoming single-cell platform.

Vaccinogen is interested in the technology for its own therapeutics development, but could out-license DiCast to other companies if it completes the deal.

Founded in 2007, Vaccinogen is developing an autologous vaccine to help prevent cancer recurrence. The firm takes cells from a patient's tumor and uses them to create a vaccine to help the patient's immune system recognize those cells. The Baltimore-based firm is building a research and development center in Ireland to characterize human monoclonal antibodies and has hired Leonard and the DiCast team to perform R&D.

Pharmaceutical companies spend lots of money screening lots of drug producing cells, trying to find antibodies to use as therapeutics, Leonard explained. "DiCast could help them maximize the populations of cells in-house that could produce drugs," Leonard said, adding that the platform could be used to detect anything that secreted from the cell. "You can do functional screens and see cell interactions," he said. "You can see cytokine release, apoptosis, [and] certain peptides, full or cleaved peptides. You can build a picture of what biology is going on."

DiCast is also able to deliver on the basic promise of single-cell technologies to resolve heterogeneous cell populations.

"With single cell 'omics, we're realizing that all those cells are different," Leaonard noted. "There are some really active cells and some that aren't active."

The platform could even be adapted to target DNA and RNA, Leonard said. "If DNA or RNA is your antigen, you could capture it on a bead and put it in the capillary," he said. The system is versatile enough to be further developed in a number of directions."If you can measure in microtiter plate, you can do it on DiCast," Leonard said.

Vaccinogen did not disclose the financial terms of the option agreement, but said that it would award Dublin City University a combination of cash and warrants to purchase Vaccinogen stock should Vaccinogen exercise the option. If it acquires the technology, Vaccinogen would gain rights to license DiCast to research and pharmaceutical partners worldwide.

The company intends to continue to develop DiCast with nonexclusive relationships, Vaccinogen CEO Andrew Tussing told GenomeWeb. "We are building our strategy on it now. We see a strong revenue stream starting next year."

"In developing DiCast, we want to make it market relevant," Leonard said. "At the moment, because we're not fully engaged, we're talking with fewer than 10 companies, but looking to increase that. We're looking to engage with partners that have the same strategy that we have." There are more than enough antibody targets and different cell types for many companies to explore. "We can interact with different companies that have different content and are looking at a different type of question."

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