NEW YORK – Despite launching its US proteomics business less than a year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, BGI Americas has seen strong demand for its services, according to Guanghui Han, director of the company's San Jose, California-based mass spectrometry center.
Since the center opened in May 2019, revenues have grown at a clip of roughly 100 percent per year and the facility has doubled its staff, Han said, noting that much of this growth has been driven by demand from biopharma customers.
BGI is one of the world's largest providers of DNA sequencing services, but the company has also for years offered proteomics services out of several of its Chinese research facilities.
Han said BGI decided to open the San Jose facility to meet what it saw as growing demand for proteomics research services.
"More and more customers were asking us about proteomics services," he said. He noted that BGI felt it could not consistently provide good turnaround times for North American researchers out of its China-based facilities. Additionally, Han said that the company wanted to have a proteomics center near the Bay Area biotech hub, where many of its biopharma customers have a presence.
The company offers a number of proteomics services out of the facility, including protein identification experiments, post-translational modification profiling, protein quantitation using either data independent-acquisition mass spec or isobaric labeling, and targeted protein quantitation using parallel reaction monitoring. It also offers peptide mapping and intact protein work for biologics characterization.
BGI Americas also inked a deal in June with Champions Oncology to use its proteomics and multiomics tools for cancer biomarker discovery and validation in Champions' patient-derived xenograft samples. Han said the collaboration will also provide BGI with access to xenograft samples for cancer work with its biopharma clients.
The facility currently operates three mass spectrometers, all Thermo Fisher Scientific instruments — the Q Exactive HF-X, the Orbitrap Fusion Lumos with the FAIMS Pro separation device, and the Orbitrap Eclipse Tribrid, also with the FAIMS Pro.
Han said that as the facility grows, it is keeping an eye on emerging proteomics technologies, both mass spec- and non-mass spec-based.
"We're trying to see where the market is going in the future," he said, noting that the space has seen a significant amount of activity recently with the launch of new proteomics companies like Seer and Quantum-Si and initial public offerings from existing proteomics firms like Olink and SomaLogic.
Han said that while affinity-based platforms like SomaLogic's and Olink's were attractive in that they allowed for large-scale, high-throughput analyses, he remained wary of them due to what he said was, in his opinion, insufficient data on the specificity and cross-reactivity of their assays, and the fact that they were not as useful as mass spec-based approaches for analyzing the different proteoforms of a given protein.
Anthony Tong, director of product management for biopharma at BGI, noted that a mass spec-based approach also allows the company to offer metabolomics services out of the facility, which he said was part of its larger multiomics strategy.
"When you look at our global lab infrastructure, our strategy is to target multiomics," he said, adding that the company aimed to bring together its proteomic, metabolomic, genomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic capabilities to provide a comprehensive multiomic offering.
Han said that BGI is also looking to provide such analyses at the single-cell level. Recent developments in mass spec technology have made single-cell proteomics more feasible than in the past, and the approach could see increased uptake as new sample prep technologies and instrument releases like Bruker's timsTOF SCP help move beyond a handful of specialist labs.
Han also said he saw great promise in top-down workflows, citing ongoing technical developments in that area and the potential they had to capture proteoform information at the proteome scale. "I think that is something that we can expect in the future," he said.