As GeneProt is about to close its doors for good (see related story), Oxford Genome Sciences is trying to rise from the ashes of Oxford GlycoSciences.
Last week, the Abingdon, UK-based company said it closed a second round of venture capital funding, following a first round last July. South East Growth Fund, a regional fund representing a number of institutional investors, was a lead investor in both financing rounds, and was joined this time by Oxford Capital Partners.
While OGeS has not disclosed the amount of the funding from either round, CEO Christian Rohlff told ProteoMonitor that the new investment will allow the company to grow, building on the expertise and resources from its predecessor.
For example, OGeS has already managed to triple its space this month after moving back into Oxford GlycoSciences' old premises, a custom-built proteomics facility in Abingdon.
The funding will also allow OGeS to upgrade its technology, mainly on the mass spec side, and to hire additional people, according to Rohlff. At the moment, the company is considering acquiring a Fourier Transform mass spectrometer to complement its MALDI-TOF, Micromass Q-TOF and ABI 4700 TOF-TOF instruments. "It looks like that's going to be a key technology for the next phase of proteomics development," Rohlff said.
The company might also establish a presence in the US, although that has not been decided yet, he said.
So how will OGeS be able to survive where other proteomics companies have failed? "We think we are still in a very unique position in terms of the experience we have, the technology and bioinformatics assets, and [our] tremendous database," Rohlff said.
"To some degree, you can think about us as a second generation proteomics company," he said. "We have a lot of historical investment, so we don't have to immediately try to get a return on [that]. We can be more competitive in terms of how we position ourselves in partnerships."
As part of its business model, OGeS offers prospective customers the use of its database, developed by OGS' and Marconi's joint venture Confirmant and now called OGAP for Oxford Genome Anatomy Project (see PM 10/8/2004). OGAP maps over a million peptides discovered in different tissues and disease states onto 15,000 human genes. "You would have to spend between $30 million and $50 million to create something like this," Rohlff said.
Earlier this year, OGeS inked a collaboration with Bayer HealthCare Diagnostics (see PM 3/18/2005) to evaluate candidate biomarkers for breast cancer diagnostics. This deal employs the database.
Technology-wise, OGeS now offers its customers both gel-based and gel-independent protein discovery platforms, while OGS had focused on 2D gel-based approaches.
Samples can be analyzed by 2D gel electrophoresis, or by LC-MS using Isotope Coded Affinity Tags or Glyco-Capture Affinity Tags.
Proteins that seem to be good target or biomarker candidates are then prioritized using the OGAP database, and validated in larger sample sets. OGeS banks on ordered peptide arrays for validation, a mass spec-based approach that uses isotopicallylabeled reference peptides to quantify each candidate biomarker protein in a sample.
Rohlff's aim for the year is to build two or three collaborations with pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. Besides offering protein analysis services, the company will also aim to share downstream revenues with some of its partners, "whether it's a diagnostic player or a mid-sized-to-large biotech," he said.
"In the past, we always ran on a handful of partnerships," he said. "From my perspective, that was a very successful model, to focus on a few high-quality collaborations." That way, he hopes the company will become profitable within five years.
One of the problems of the early proteomics companies, Rohlff said, was "a certain pressure in 2000 and 2001 to shift away from the platform to product development," at a time when platform firms were unpopular with investors. "You had to really focus on drug development and be somewhat less focused on the platform element of the business model," he said.
That will be different now, he said. OGeS is aiming to create a sound balance between revenues from service fees, and maybe in the future subscriptions to the OGAP database, and royalties and milestone payments from longer-term partnerships.
Pharmaceutical companies are still interested in proteomics services, he maintained, at least now that the technology is still in development.
What's different now, he said, is the size of the deals. "In the early days, people were doing very, very large deals," Rohlff said, citing GeneProt's $91 million deal with Novartis in 2000. "Those days are clearly gone."