NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – SomaLogic notched another placement for its SomaScan assay platform, announcing this week that the University of Oxford would install a system as part of a larger collaboration between the two parties.
According to John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford and chairman of the UK's Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research, Oxford researchers will use the SomaScan platform for work on protein biomarkers for conditions including inflammatory diseases, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
He told GenomeWeb that, while he and his colleagues at Oxford have established genomics workflows in place, they have had trouble finding a proteomics platform well suited to their needs. Specifically, he said, they are interested in a technology capable of looking at large numbers of markers in blood or serum with high throughput and relative ease of use and reliability.
Mass spec has in many facilities emerged as the method of choice for such work, but Bell said that he was dissatisfied with that technology and interested in alternatives.
Noting that the university's biobank has some 500,000 serum samples from roughly the same number of patients, Bell said that he thought taking "a systematic approach to characterizing proteins [in these samples] to see if we can identify predictive markers … is an important next step."
"But," he said, "this has not been technologically easy to do. For example, mass spec is a nightmare to do in plasma or serum. We do mass spec in a research setting but doing it in a systematic way, it has just proved to be really hard. And [on the other hand], there are not enough really useful antibody markers to get you to where you need to get to," he added.
"The SomaLogic platform is really the first one we have seen that offers a large-scale analytical platform that you can to some extent use for hypothesis-free studies," Bell said.
Launched in 2012, SomaScan uses SomaLogic's Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamer, or Somamer, affinity reagents to simultaneously quantify more than 1,000 protein analytes. These Somamers – essentially short strands of DNA – bind to protein targets in a sample of interest. They can then be quantified via microarrays, with the quantity of a given Somamer corresponding to the quantity of its target protein.
The current version of SomaScan features Somamers to 1,310 targets, though the company can also provide custom reagents. Bell said that while Oxford planned to start with the standard platform, he expected he and his colleagues would also have custom reagents made for targets that proved of particular interest.
He cited several areas of focus for the effort, including development of markers for better measuring disease progression in inflammatory diseases; Alzheimer's, where he said the researchers hoped to identify markers for purposes including early detection and measuring disease progression; and cancer, where he said he believed protein markers could prove useful supplements to genetic markers.
From SomaLogic's perspective, the project is an opportunity to access Oxford's large sample sets and to demonstrate the usefulness of SomaScan in the development of near-clinical and clinical assays, CEO Byron Hewett told GenomeWeb.
Since its release in 2012, SomaScan has become the company's primary source of revenue. The platform generated $10.5 million in revenues in 2013 and roughly doubled that in 2014. Hewett declined to say how much in revenues the business generated in 2015, but said that it had grown at a slightly slower but still "pretty fast" rate.
SomaLogic has placed 15 SomaScan platforms in labs around the world and inked deals with a number of large pharma companies including Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb. The former took an equity stake in the company as part of their 2014 agreement, and SomaLogic has developed for the drugmaker a custom SomaScan library featuring reagents to 5,000 analytes.
That project demonstrates the company's ability to continue to scale the platform, Hewett said.
The 5,000-plex "works the same as the 1,310-plex," he said. "And we don't see any limitations in terms of the bigger plex. So, we are now envisioning a 10,000-plex and maybe a 15,000-plex and maybe a 20,000-plex. Of course, it will take time to get there, but if we could measure the entire human proteome we think that would be very exciting."
While SomaScan has taken center stage, the company continues to drive its diagnostics business forward, Hewett said, noting that it plans in the second half of this year to launch out of its CLIA lab a nine-protein test for secondary risk prediction in cardiovascular disease.
The test, which is based on data generated using some 2,600 patient samples, is intended for use in patients who have previously suffered a cardiac event and is able, Hewett said, to assess their risk of suffering another event as well as provide information on when it is likely to occur and what sort of event it is likely to be.
He said SomaLogic will initially target the test toward pharma companies for uses including stratification of patient cohorts in clinical trials, while at the same time doing additional studies and pursuing reimbursement to support its launch as a test for use in actual patients.
"We will be conducting several other studies that will help address the health economic outcomes of the test, and over the next couple of years will be going through the process of gaining reimbursement," he said.
Cardiovascular disease is a longstanding area of interest for SomaLogic. For instance, in 2012, the company collaborated with Norway's HUNT Research Center on a 2,000-patient validation study of protein markers for predicting cardiovascular events. It initially identified those markers in a 1,000-patient study of high-risk CVD patients it performed in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center researcher Jennifer Van Eyk is also using the SomaScan platform in an American Heart Association-funded project she is leading that aims to discover and validate protein markers for cardiovascular disease.