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Sengenics Acquires OGT's Protein Array Platform; Plans to Target Pharma Immunology Research

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Biotech firm Sengenics said this week that it has acquired Oxford Gene Technology's protein array technology.

The technology, which Sengenics is calling its Immunome platform, enables the production of protein arrays featuring full-length, folded, and functionally validated protein.

The acquisition signifies Sengenics' growing interest in proteomics. The company has traditionally focused on genomics analyses, but, according to Sengenics Commercial Director Johan Poole-Johnson, it has "been doing progressive[ly] more proteomics work the last two or three years."

"Obviously there has been a massive focus on genomics and transcriptomics and sequencing, but we all sometimes forget that what is really happening from a functional perspective is primarily at the protein level," he said.

"The evidence in the last several years has become very strong that you can't answer everything by just looking at genome sequencing or transcriptome sequencing," he added.

The deal is, conversely, a reflection of Oxford Gene Technology's shift to a more narrow focus aimed at clinical genomics. In addition to the Sengenics deal, OGT announced last week that it has sold its next-generation sequencing services business to Source Bioscience.

Sengenics has been offering OGT's protein array technology to its customers for the last several years, Poole-Johnson told GenomeWeb, noting that the company has completed more than 50 commercial projects with clients, including a number of large pharma and biotech firms.

"The technology is not new to us," he said, adding that OGT's narrowing focus provided a "strategically timely opportunity for us to acquire this technology, as well as all the patents and trademarks."

Jonathan Blackburn, who invented the protein array technology while at the University of Oxford, has joined Sengenics as chief scientific advisor, Poole-Johnson said.

As the Immunome name would imply, Sengenics is targeting the platform toward immune and autoimmune research, with an emphasis on drug development work. Poole-Johnson said the company thought it had great potential for clinical trial work, allowing pharma companies to explore how the immune status of various subjects affects how they respond to a given drug.

Looking at infectious disease and patient response to vaccines will be another area of focus for the platform, he said. "That is our focus, giving scientists, researchers, and, particularly, big pharma a window into what goes on in the immune system, which is right now a very neglected but important piece of the pie in trying to understand what is happening in drug interactions, in diseases, and during infections, as well."

This places Sengenics in competition with, perhaps most notably, Protagen, which likewise uses protein arrays for research into immune function and autoimmune diseases. Last year, Protagen signed a collaboration agreement with Qiagen, under which Qiagen will offer its pharma clients access to Protagen's platform to aid in the development of protein-based companion diagnostics for autoimmune disorders.

Qiagen said at the time that it would use the Protagen technology in Phase I to Phase IV drug development programs for autoimmune illnesses, as well as to enable the development of companion tests for better disease diagnosis, patient stratification in clinical trials, and improved treatment strategies.

In an interview with GenomeWeb following the announcement of the deal, Protagen CEO Stefan Müllner noted "huge demand" in the autoimmune space for better companion diagnostics.

Sengenics has noted similarly strong demand among its pharma clients, which, Poole-Johnson said, include six of the 10 largest pharma firms. 

He said, however, that in internal benchmarking studies, Sengenics had found that its Immunome platform delivered superior performance compared to competing protein arrays, particularly in terms of reproducibility. He attributed this to the platform's use of full-length proteins folded in their natural conformations. Protagen's platform, likewise, uses full-length, folded proteins.

Additionally, all of the proteins on the platform are functionally validated, he said. "So if it is a kinase, we know it is a kinase, and we know that it phosphorylates on the array. That makes a massive difference."

Sengenics will offer different arrays for different research applications, Poole-Johnson said. "For example, we have a kinome array, we have an array for modeling drugs, we have an array for looking at vaccines."

The company also offers custom arrays. "We have a highly flexible platform, so if people want any number of proteins, we are able to customize it very quickly," he said, noting that such custom designs can typically be delivered within three to four weeks.

"We can do pretty much anything a customer wants, which is important," he said. "Some people may want 20 proteins on 10,000 slides, some may need 500 proteins on 1,000 slides."

A single array can contain up to around 8,000 proteins, he said, noting that for experiments that require larger numbers, the proteins can be spread across multiple arrays.

The Immunome system is an open platform and can be read with a number of mainstream array scanners. "The protocol is relatively simple, so we can sell slides to customers and they can run them in their own labs," Poole-Johnson said.

The company also does fee-for-service work, in which it produces and runs the arrays. Additionally, he said, Sengenics has collaborative research projects using the platform where IP is shared between the partners. The company is not undertaking any independent internal research projects currently but is focusing instead on developing additional array content and new applications for the technology, Poole-Johnson said.

He noted that Sengenics plans, down the road, to take the platform beyond its initial immune focus.

"It can be used for all kinds of protein work — toxicology work, microbial research, plant research, protein-protein interactions, or protein-DNA interactions," he said. "We have grand plans for how we want to apply it to other applications. So we are only scratching the surface."

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