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With Agilent Deal, SomaLogic Aims to Build SOMAScan User Base as It Eyes Clinic

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Agilent and SomaLogic said this week that they have entered an agreement to expand access to SomaLogic's SOMAscan protein biomarker discovery platform by placing it in select academic and contract research centers.

According to SomaLogic CEO Larry Gold, the move comes in response to growing demand for the platform, which the company has been offering out of its laboratory on a fee-for-service basis. SomaLogic has run more than 40,000 samples on the platform since launching it two years ago, Gold told ProteoMonitor.

The SOMAscan platform uses SomaLogic's Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamer, or Somamer, affinity reagents to simultaneously quantify 1,129 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 platform, which uses custom Agilent microarrays for Somamer quantification, is able to work with samples as small as 50 μL and with a throughput of roughly 1,000 samples a week, SomaLogic said.

According to Gold, the companies have yet to identify the specific sites where they will first install the platform, but they have collected a list of facilities interesting in obtaining it and have established criteria for determining the likeliest initial candidates.

"In the beginning the idea is to make sure we can work with the people who are going to do it and get it right," he said, adding that the company hoped to begin placing platforms within a matter of months.

While offering the platform to offsite facilities could generate new demand for SomaLogic's Somamers and other reagents related to the system, there is the potential that these new facilities could cut into the firm's existing service business. Gold said, though, that he was less concerned with this than with the opportunity to expand use of the platform.

"If someone opens [a SOMAscan service business] at University XYZ and someone from ABC sends them samples, we're not going to try to keep that from happening," he said. "Our interest is to build the use of SOMAscan, so we aren't going to quibble and say, 'Wait, that's our client.'"

Indeed, the proteomics research space is "not the business we ultimately hope to be in" with the SOMAscan platform, Gold said, noting that the eventual plan is to turn it into a clinically approved diagnostic panel. By expanding the platform's reach, the company hopes to help doctors and researchers "get comfortable running samples [on the system] and getting back data."

"It is all a step in the direction of making [it] less mysterious," he said.

Somalogic has been active in clinical research, pursuing protein biomarker panels for diseases including lung cancer, prostate cancer, and mesothelioma (PM 12/10/2010), and, Gold said, the company is still pursuing development of in vitro diagnostics based on those panels. However, he added, the ultimate goal is to turn the entire SOMAscan panel into a US Food and Drug Administration-approved product for use in mainstream patient care.

While most biomarker development efforts have focused on discrete panels of proteins, Gold said he envisions a clinical version of SOMAscan being run in its entirety with physicians then focusing in on the specific portions of the data that are informative for the condition they are interested in.

"The idea of measuring everything and then thinking about it in discrete chunks" is made more attractive by the fact that the cost of running the SOMAscan panel doesn't expand linearly with the number of assays making up the panel, Gold said.

Beyond expanding access to the SOMAscan platform, the agreement also marks the second deal announced this month that extends the reach of a nucleic acid tools vendor into proteomics. Two weeks ago, Olink Bioscience announced a co-marketing deal with Fluidigm under which the companies will offer Olink's Proseek Multiplex protein assays on Fluidigm's BioMark HD real-time PCR platform (PM 8/2/2013).

DNA-based protein detection techniques like SOMAscan and Olink's proximity extension assay technology, which uses pairs of antibodies attached to unique DNA sequences to detect proteins of interest, offer nucleic acid tool vendors an opportunity to make inroads into the proteomics space. As Jacob Thaysen, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Genomics Solutions Division, said in a statement, the agreement to expand the SOMAscan platform to offsite installations, "will greatly enhance our current microarray offerings by expanding them into the rapidly growing proteomics market."

Agilent, which declined to comment further on the agreement, is also active in proteomics via its mass spectrometry business.

While Fluidigm and Agilent are using, respectively, PCR and microarrays in the recently announced collaborations, next-generation sequencing also looms on the horizon as a potential tool for read-out of nucleic acid-based protein detection platforms (PM 5/6/2011).

For instance, Uppsala University researcher Ulf Landegren, a founder and board member at Olink, published a paper in PLoS One in 2011 on using NGS for proximity ligation assays similar to the PEA assays used in the Proseek Multiplex tool product (PM 10/7/2011).

Speaking to ProteoMonitor following the announcement of the Fluidigm deal, Olink President and CEO Simon Fredriksson said, however, that while assays like the Proseek could "be run on next-gen sequencing platforms down the road" the company feels that Fluidigm's real-time PCR tool "is really the best option." He noted, in particular, its less complicated data analysis demands.

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