By Ben Butkus
Biological sample specialist Biomatrica said this week that it is collaborating with SAIC-Frederick to develop improved methods of isolating nucleic acids from tumor samples for cancer research applications and targeted therapy development.
The agreement is expected to yield new commercial products for Biomatrica for protecting and isolating nucleic acids, particularly RNA, from "wet" biosamples such as tissue, blood, and saliva, thus providing the company with a foothold in the molecular diagnostics market, a company official said this week.
The collaboration between Frederick, Md.-based Biomatrica and SAIC-Frederick was developed under the Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative of the National Cancer Institute, a program designed to accelerate the commercialization of basic research findings.
SAIC-Frederick, a subsidiary of Science Applications International Corporation, is the operations and technical support contractor for NCI's federal national laboratory in Frederick, and facilitates partnerships for the ATPI.
Terms of the collaboration call for researchers in SAIC-Frederick's Laboratory Animal Sciences Program to explore ways to integrate proprietary reagents from Biomatrica into its molecular pathology workflows. The objective, the company said, is to streamline processes while increasing efficiency and integrity of RNA isolated from histological samples in cancer studies.
Biomatrica has traditionally developed and sold products based on its proprietary SampleMatrix stabilization technology, which enables samples to be stored outside cold environments while preserving their integrity, thus mitigating the cost of maintaining cold conditions during shipment and storage.
More specifically, the technology uses anhydrobiosis as part of a synthetic, chemistry-based stabilization method that forms a thermostable barrier around a sample to provide protection against degradation and loss of biological activity.
Biomatrica's current product offerings are meant to be used with nucleic acids that have already been purified from their sample matrix; however, the new collaboration with SAIC-Frederick will focus on developing new versions of the technology that can protect nucleic acids, particularly RNA, that are still part of the biospecimen.
"It's the same idea, but a little bit different," Omo Clement, associate director of marketing for Biomatrica, told PCR Insider this week. "The precursor to the technology is SampleMatrix. BioMatrica has evolved in the last couple of years beyond creating matrices based on a dry format. Now we are making new formulations and products that are liquid-based. This allows us to move into biological sample collection, transport, and processing in more complex systems [such as] blood, saliva, tissue, biopsy material, and so on."
Clement further explained that while Biomatrica's original SampleMatrix technology was designed to "shrink wrap" purified DNA, the new products will be designed to "penetrate, and then shrink wrap those molecules before they have been extracted from their native state. Whether it's in tissue, cells, blood, or saliva, we have a formulation that will penetrate the cells … and protect the macromolecules prior to extraction."
Further, Biomatrica's technology is designed to ensure that total RNA can subsequently be extracted from the sample matrix with both high yield and quality. "That's the critical part, because once it degrades, it makes whatever data they are trying to generate very suspect," Clement said.
The exact nature of the work being conducted at SAIC-Frederick is unclear. Clement declined to provide details, citing a confidentiality agreement. In a statement, Larry Sternberg, director of the histology section of the Laboratory Animal Sciences Program, said that the collaboration "may improve isolation of nucleic acids from histological samples, particularly very labile RNA molecules."
Biomatrica added that conventional RNA isolation from histological samples is typically a "low-throughput operation" requiring "considerable infrastructure," and that the collaboration with SAIC-Frederick has the potential to change this.
"It's going to be understanding what [SAIC-Frederick's] pathology workflow is, and seeing what new technologies we can develop that will fit into those workflows, essentially making the extraction and stabilization of RNA in those tumor samples easy to do, and simplifying their process considerably," Clement said.
The processes being developed by the partners could eventually be employed with both fresh biospecimens and archived specimens such as formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue.
"As soon as this is an advanced technology process, we will think it is likely to be involved in everything," Clement said. "They may want to go back and look at some difficult cell [samples] … as well as ongoing and future [sample collection]. Our goal is to provide the technology to help them; their job is to figure out where they want to apply it."
The end result for Biomatrica is likely to be commercial products not only for government labs, but also for the broader clinical diagnostic and research markets. "In fact, the critical piece of this is that it is not something developed exclusively to SAIC," Clement said. "There will be test kits within the NIH and NCI structure, but it is to be developed in concert with SAIC but deployed broadly in the market."
This isn't the first time Biomatrica has been able to leverage connections with the US government. In fact, the collaboration with SAIC-Frederick spawned from a research collaboration the company had with the laboratory of John Gillespie at NCI. "He tested an early product and some technology of ours, and … SAIC along with NCI saw that and were very excited about it," Clement said. "The discussions and collaboration with [SAIC] is intended to start from that point and essentially enhance and produce new products or technologies to fit their specific workflow."
In addition, in February In-Q-Tel, an independent strategic investment firm that identifies technologies to support US intelligence efforts, said it was investing an undisclosed amount in Biomatrica to support the development of a platform incorporating Biomatrica's technology and to be used for US intelligence applications, giving the company a window into the biodefense and homeland security markets (PCR Insider, 2/24/11).
Biomatrica also has in place a partner program designed to help advance its technologies by tapping industry and academic labs to develop, test, validate, and use its technologies for long-term storage, archival, shipping, and management of biological samples. Biostorage Technologies, Eastern Washington University, Matrical Biosciences, and Nexus Biosystems are initial partners under the program (PCR Insider, 5/12/10).
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