Applied Biosystems and Olink this week announced an exclusive licensing and collaboration agreement for development of a comparatively new technology that could open the door to a new way of studying protein interactions.
The deal calls for the two companies to co-develop and commercialize Olink’s proximity ligation assay technology for specific applications in life sciences, including biomarker validation and characterization of complex biological processes.
Both Olink and ABI declined to disclose the financial terms and the length of the agreement.
For proteomics, PLA is a novel technology that according to some can offer more sensitive and specific protein measurements than other methods available. The technology is based on proximity probes containing oligonucelotide-labeled antibodies that are designed to bind to target proteins. When brought in proximity, the probes form amplifiable tag sequences upon ligation.
Because the protein targets are represented as DNA signatures they can be amplified and analyzed by other methods such as polymerase chain reaction.
In an e-mail, Rodney Turner, senior director of stem cell solutions for ABI, told ProteoMonitor that the novel aspect of the technology is the use of two antibodies, “which helps to reduce non-specific background …The ligation of the antibody-conjugated oligonucleotides combined with a nucleic acid probe for specific sequence detection allows for multiplexing in solution.”
For proteomics researchers, PLA offers several advantages over other protein-measurement methods, Turner said, including an increase in dynamic range of four to five orders of magnitude and the need for less biological sample.
With PLA, a researcher can use as little as a single cell, “making the method ideal for the study of scarce samples, such as biopsy material, single or few cells, or low-abundance proteins in cells or serum,” which is particularly important for cancer and stem cell research, Turner said.
The technology also offers the possibility of increased throughput because it is well-suited for multiplexing and automation.
“Finally, PLA offers the potential to develop assays of protein interaction, for which few solutions exist today,” Turner said.
ABI’s internal estimates put the protein analysis market at about $3 billion for 2006 with the immunoassay segment comprising about one-third of that. The sub-segment of the protein analysis market that ABI is targeting with the Olink deal amounts to about $200 million, Turner said.
As part of the deal, ABI will develop PLA products for in vitro research applications, which will combine the protein detection capabilities of the PLA platform with the quantitative capabilities of ABI’s TaqMan reagents on the company’s PCR systems.
Olink will retain all rights to the in situ format for PLA and develop applications in that area, the companies said. It also retains rights to in vitro diagnostics based on the PLA technology.
Olink, based in Uppsala, Sweden was co-founded in 2004 by Ulf Landegren, a professor of genetics and pathology at Uppsala University, and the primary developer of PLA. The company recently launched its Duolink reagent kit enabling in situ detection of molecular interactions and fluorescence imaging.
“PLA offers the potential to develop assays of protein interaction, for which few solutions exist today.”
Citing ABI’s “strong IP position” in the real-time PCR field, Björn Ekström, president and CEO of Olink, said in an e-mail that the company chose to partner with ABI for in vitro research applications of PLA because ABI could grow sales of “the real-time PCR incarnation of the PLA technology much faster than we could ourselves (or together with most other potential partners).”
He said that “many” companies had expressed “very strong interest” in the PLA technology but he declined to identify them.
The ABI partnership, he said, allows Olink to concentrate on further developing the Duolink product, which Ekström said gives researchers the capability to detect individual proteins, protein interactions, and protein modifications in unmodified cell and tissue.
“Localization and quantification is facilitated due to the digital character of the method,” he said. Olink is targeting Duolink to those doing research into cancer and signaling pathways.
The ABI deal, Ekström said, is part of the company’s strategy to grow the company by licensing out its technology rather than through venture capital funding.
“Even with significant financial backing, it would have been challenging for a small start-up company to develop all technologies in our portfolio into successful products,” he said. “Teaming up with other organizations seems like a good idea for a technology-rich company like Olink.”
The agreement with ABI is Olink’s second with a major life science tool vendor. In 2005, the company granted limited rights to its padlock probe technology to Affymetrix.
For ABI, the PLA platform offers “an opportunity to extend ABI’s established real-time PCR technology in quantitative protein analysis,” Turner said. ABI sees particular opportunities for the approach in cancer biology, signal transduction pathway study, and stem cell science.
He said that ABI sees few competitors in the space because PLA combines small sample size with ease of use and high throughput.
“We anticipate that antibody providers will find the method attractive and hope to work with them as we develop our commercialization plans,” he said.