NEW YORK — Backed by an investment from and partnership with Bruker, proteomics firm Adeptrix is ramping up commercialization of its multiplexed MALDI mass spec assays.
Last week, the Beverly, Massachusetts-based company announced it had closed a Series A funding round and planned to use the proceeds to accelerate commercialization of its bead assisted mass spectrometry (BAMS) technology, which combines immuno-enrichment of protein targets with MALDI mass spec to enable rapid, multiplexed analysis of proteins and proteoforms.
Jeffrey Silva, chief technology officer at Adeptrix, said that Bruker was the sole investor in the round. He declined to say how much funding it raised, noting that the company was bound by contract to not disclose the figure.
He said that in addition to Bruker's investment, the partnership between the two firms would help Adeptrix commercialize the BAMS technology, particularly by supporting the company's sales and marketing efforts and "helping to introduce the technology to the [Bruker] user base that is out there that have MALDI instruments and are excited about using MALDI instrumentation for targeted proteomics."
In a statement following the announcement of the partnership, Rohan Thakur, EVP of life sciences mass spectrometry at Bruker, said the companies aimed to "accelerate collaborations with developers of antibodies and other affinity reagents to expand the range of available protein biomarker [BAMS] assays for liquid biopsies, cell, and tissue-based applications."
Adeptrix's BAMS technology uses magnetic beads functionalized with antibodies to a particular protein target. Arrays of these beads, each with antibodies to a different target, can be placed in microwell plates and treated with a sample of interest. Then the captured proteins can be eluted and placed on a microarray slide and measured using MALDI mass spec to identify and quantify the proteins present.
Silva noted that the use of mass spec for analysis of the captured proteins allows researchers to probe the various proteoforms and modified forms of the proteins present, making the tool particularly useful for applications like epigenetics where an understanding of the particular protein isoforms involved is essential.
"Being able to monitor proteoforms is really what we are doing," he said, noting that this isn't possible with immunoassays like ELISAs that typically aren't able to provide a look into the heterogeneity within the protein population they detect.
Adeptrix is not the first company to combine antibody-based enrichment with mass spec to provide a more in-depth look at proteoforms. More than a decade ago, Arizona State University spinout Intrinsic Bioprobes (which was acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2011) launched its mass spectrometric immunoassay, or MSIA, technology, which used a microcolumn activated with antibodies to isolate proteins in complex samples, which were then passed on for mass spec analysis. The MSIA technology was meant to be coupled to LC-MS, however, which limited the number of protein targets it could look at. By opting for MALDI, Adeptrix is able to offer highly multiplexed assays that can run at high-throughput, allowing researchers to quickly analyze multiple targets across large numbers of samples.
The high throughput of MALDI "really enables [BAMS] to be used as a screening platform and tool for bioanalytical methods for drug discovery as well as disease biology," Silva said. He provided the example of an array with 2,300 spots, each representing the proteins pulled down by an individual bead.
"You can read all the spots on that slide in less than an hour," he said.
Silva said that the company has configured assays multiplexing 50 or more protein targets in a single experiment but added that it could in theory take multiplex much larger numbers without interference issues given that each well is separate from the others and is interrogated independently.
In 2015, Adeptrix received a roughly $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support development of the BAMS technology. Since then the company has been working to refine the workflow and expand its antibody bead content and engaged with several academic and pharma partners on pilot projects to demonstrate the utility of the approach, Silva said.
He said the company has developed assays to around 120 proteins. It currently offers around 10 assays commercially and plans to release another 30 in the first quarter of this year.
Silva said the company was targeting pharma and biotech firms interested in the combination of speed and depth of analyses enabled by the system. More generally, he said the company believed it could win business among biologists already accustomed to using immunoassays for protein research.
"This is an enabling technology that is really going to help introduce mass spectrometry to biologists," he said. "Using a method a lot of scientists are confident doing — magnetic bead purification — they can do targeted proteomics with a MALDI instrument that can be pretty much treated like a scanner."
Silva said that in addition to speed and simplicity, the ease of transporting samples was an advantage to the MALDI platform.
"Once you have the material on the slide, that slide can either be walked down to a core lab or it can be put into a slide mailer and sent to a contract research lab to basically carry out those assays," he said, adding that Adeptrix is working with contract research organizations to let them offer the BAMS technology as a service to their customers.
In May, Adeptrix entered a collaboration with affinity reagent firm Avacta to develop and manufacture a high-throughput antigen test for SARS-CoV-2 using Avacta's Affimer affinity reagents and the BAMS platform.
"It's an opportunity to really demonstrate how BAMS can be used," Silva said, adding that Adeptrix was focused on making reagents for the test and would partner with outside firms with diagnostic expertise to "demonstrate the utility and work out the optimizations that are needed for it to be used as an IVD assay."