NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, is launching a company to commercialize his lab's Nucleic Acid Programmable Protein Array (NAPPA) technology.
Named Ordinatrix, the Phoenix, Arizona-based company will sell the NAPPA platform as a research tool and offer research services using the system, LaBaer said, noting that it plans to begin sales in July.
The company has appointed Jim Hauert, former executive at ADMA Biologics and Baxter Bioscience, as president and CEO, while LaBaer is a board member.
LaBaer added that down the road, the company might also develop in-house protein biomarker and diagnostics development programs. His lab previously licensed breast and ovarian cancer biomarkers that it identified using the NAPPA technology to proteomic diagnostics firm Provista Diagnostics.
As opposed to typical protein microarrays, which involve spotting proteins on an array, the NAPPA system prints plasmid DNA in arrays, which then produce proteins in situ when they are needed for an assay. According to LaBaer, this approach has a number of advantages over printing the proteins themselves, including providing for higher and more even yields of protein across the array and the ability to more consistently produce proteins folded as they would be in vivo.
LaBaer originally developed the NAPPA system in 2008 while a professor at Harvard Medical School, and it has been widely used by researchers for work ranging from protein biomarker discovery to studies of protein-protein interactions and infectious disease.
LaBaer said that he decided to launch Ordinatrix in order to provide users with the level of quality control and customer support more typically offered by a commercial entity than an academic one.
"What we have found is that commercial users, in particular, prefer to deal with another company. They want to know that they are purchasing a service as opposed to doing a 'collaboration,'" he said.
"Over the last five or six years we have advanced the [NAPPA] technology to the point where it is now pretty robust," he added. "So I think it's a good time to get it out there."
Additionally, LaBaer and his colleagues recently developed a high-density version of the platform that offers higher performance than the original system. The main advance is the use of slides featuring silicon nanowells as opposed to spotting the plasmid DNA on flat glass slides. This allows for high-density spotting with no diffusion between spots and a roughly fivefold improvement in sensitivity compared to the original format.
That technology, too, is "at the level where it is ready for commercialization," LaBaer said.
He said that while Ordinatrix will sell the original NAPPA system to customers as a research tool for use in their own facilities, it will for the time being offer the silicon nanowell version as a service run internally.
"The flat glass slides, we can and do ship those to people all over. It doesn't take a lot of extreme technology [to use]," he said. "The high-density NAPPA, though, still requires some specialized equipment that we have developed, so right now we'll offer that as a service."
"Eventually we could make it into an instrument that people could buy if they wanted to run it themselves," LaBaer said, though he added that "my experience is that a lot of folks are more than happy to let someone else run the experiment and give them the data."
He said that the company plans to fund its operations using revenues from sales of the NAPPA platform and services. He added that Ordinatrix hopes to win business from former customers of Thermo Fisher Scientific's ProtoArray human protein microarray business, which the company discontinued last year.
Noting that pharma and biotech firms are among the biggest commercial users of the NAPPA technology currently, LaBaer said he envisioned several research areas as opportunities for Ordinatrix.
One of the biggest, he said, is the study of immune responses to different proteins in the context of cancer, autoimmune disease, and infectious disease.
This sort of research has proved a major area of focus for other protein array firms. For instance, Protagen Diagnostics, which was acquired in March by cancer diagnostics firm Oncimmune, established a number of research collaborations in recent years around using its SeroTag human protein array platform to identify markers for guiding treatment of cancer patients with immunotherapies. Upon purchasing Protagen, Oncimmune said it plans to use the company's technology to further develop its autoantibody-based tests for early detection of cancer.
LaBaer's lab has licensed autoantibody markers for breast and ovarian cancer that were discovered using the NAPPA platform to Provista Diagnostics, which has incorporated a number of them into its Videssa Breast test, which is intended to help doctors evaluate borderline mammogram results.
Ordinatrix will offer a NAPPA array to the human proteome as well as custom arrays covering the proteomes or portions of the proteomes of various organisms that are of interest to customers.
"One of the strengths of the platform is that we can easily do custom arrays, because printing arrays is just a matter of printing plasmid DNA," LaBaer said. "So we can just organize the DNA in whatever way a user needs or pull genes from whatever sources they need."
"I think the [human proteome array] will be the most common array that people want, but if folks want, say, kinases from three different organisms, we can do that, too," he said.
Ordinatrix's human proteome array currently includes more than 17,000 full-length proteins. It defines full length as 90 percent or more of the longest known isoform of a protein. LaBaer said that while the company plans to continue to add to this collection, the remaining proteins may prove challenging due to the difficulty of synthesizing these genes.
"Some of them just have very difficult repeat structures or weird base usage structures that just don't clone well," he said. "We're going to try for it, but I don't know how far we'll get with it."
LaBaer said that using NAPPA to study protein post-translational modifications was an area of research in his lab that might also ultimately end up as a commercial offering through Ordinatrix.
"Once you have the proteins fixed to the array, you can modify them," he said. "That is definitely more difficult than just standard screening, but it is feasible. We have done it and it does work."