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Sengenics Targeting Drug Research, Biomarker Discovery With Expanded Protein Array Platform


NEW YORK – With the launch this week of an expanded protein microarray platform, immune profiling company Sengenics is looking to make further inroads into drug research and development and biomarker discovery.

The Billerica, Massachusetts-based firm's new i-Ome Discovery platform allows users to run samples against an array of more than 1,800 autoantigens, with a focus on cancer, autoimmune diseases, and neurological conditions, said President and CEO Jerry Williamson, who joined Sengenics in 2022.

Sengenics' autoantigen arrays allow researchers to profile individuals' autoantibody repertoires, which, Williamson noted, can provide insights into disease states and drug responses.

He said the company plans to initially target drug researchers and companies for basic disease research, exploring the effects of drug treatments, and selecting patients for clinical trials, among other applications. According to Sengenics Cofounder and CSO Jonathan Blackburn, the company currently counts all 10 of the top global pharmaceutical companies among its customers.

Sengenics' protein arrays use full-length, folded, and functionally validated proteins, which Williamson said sets it apart from arrays using either denatured proteins or peptides.

"The key to our technology is the presentation of a protein in its natural state in a fully functional, properly folded way," he said, noting that this presentation preserves antibody epitopes that would be lost if the protein were denatured.

Blackburn invented the protein array technology, called KREX, while at the University of Oxford. It was originally commercialized by Oxford Gene Technology, which sold it to Sengenics in 2015. Since then, the company has used it to offer a variety of protein array products, including its Pan-Autoimmune Protein Array, which measures 110 autoantigens linked to autoimmune disease, and its ImmuKyne Protein Array, which measures roughly 300 autoantigens linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome and which the company marketed as a COVID-19 research tool.

The i-Ome Discovery platform is "intended to up our game as it relates to autoantibody detection," Williamson said.

In particular, the company has "taken a strong focus on the disease relevance of the proteins" included in the array, Blackburn said.

"The theoretical human proteome is in excess of a million different proteoforms," he said. "But of course not all of those are equally likely to be disease associated. When you mine the existing literature on known autoantigens, it turns out that there are remarkably few. What we've taken is an approach where we look at … the most common attributes of antigens that have a propensity to become autoantigens in disease and be marked out by an antibody response."

Williamson added that Sengenics has also invested in its back-end bioinformatics capabilities, developing machine learning tools for interpreting the data produced by the platform and assessing its clinical relevance.

Also of note, Williamson said, the i-Ome Discovery platform interrogates not only immunoglobulin G antibodies, which have historically been the company's area of focus, but also immunoglobulin A antibodies.

Blackburn said that given that IgG and IgA have different biological functions, including both will increase the power of the platform. He noted that IgA measurements have historically been challenging due to high levels of nonspecific binding but said that Sengenics was able to significantly reduce this background binding by using full-length, folded proteins.

"If you're just interested in better biomarkers, including both IgG and IgA increases the probability of good biomarkers," Blackburn said.

Additionally, he noted, collecting data on the presence of both types of antibodies may provide a richer mechanistic understanding of a disease process.

IgG and IgA antibodies "can both bind to targets but they have different biological functions in terms of recruiting other components of the immune system," he said. "That speaks directly to the biological relevance of the antibody data we produce. Not only are we finding biomarkers, but the antibody data is telling us about the disease state itself in individuals."

IgA data could also be more informative with regard to diseases that feature mucosal involvement, Blackburn said.

"Solid tumors, for example, and also many autoimmune diseases, are associated with mucosal involvement where actually the dominant antibody being produced is an IgA, not an IgG," he said. "The new product expands [our] content in a relevant manner, and it also offers measurement of a highly disease-relevant second antibody class."

Sengenics primarily offers its array products as a service out of its laboratory, though customers can also purchase the products as kits to run in their own facilities, and Williamson said the company is seeing "a steady increase" in customers interested in running samples on their own.

Sengenics can currently run roughly 150 i-Ome Discovery assays per day. Blackburn said that an outside lab running the assay manually can probably process around two samples per day. The company provides the array and reagents as well as bioinformatics software, while customers must provide their own microarray reader.

Sengenics also provides a range of smaller and custom arrays tailored to specific customers and research areas.

The company is owned by Scandinavian private equity firm Summa Equity, which purchased it in 2020. Williamson said Summa is the primary source of investment for the firm. He added that while it does have other investors and could add investors in the future if more funds are needed, "right now, Summa is happy to be the lead and majority investor."

Sengenics has around 50 employees. Williamson declined to give a revenue figure for the company but said he expected that next year they would be in the high-single-digits to double-digit millions of dollars.