Adding to its growing roster of biomarker discovery collaborations, Ciphergen Biosystems said last week that it had embarked on a colon cancer biomarker study with infectious disease diagnostics company BioMérieux.
“The objective is to first discover markers and then develop them into products on our respective platforms,” said Robert Maurer, Ciphergen’s vice president of business development.
Initially, BioMérieux will profile a small number of serum samples from colon cancer patients and matched controls using Ciphergen’s SELDI mass spectrometry platform at its Marcy-l’Etoile, France site, with assistance from employees of Ciphergen’s biomarker discovery centers. If that initial study reveals a predictive set of markers, BioMérieux will likely expand it to validate the results, said Maurer. At this stage, Ciphergen’s centers would become more involved in the project, identifying these protein markers. “We have always been in the camp of thinking [that] identification of proteins is critical,” Maurer said. In developing commercial assays from these markers, the two companies will follow different routes: While BioMérieux will focus on enzyme immunoassays to measure individual markers, Ciphergen will seek to develop marker patterns that would be measured on its mass spectrometry platform. The parties will pay each other royalties for any products that come to market.
Biomarker discovery projects — both in-house and in collaboration with others — have been a part of Ciphergen’s business for several years, albeit a small one. Its four biomarker discovery centers in Fremont, Calif.; Malvern, Pa.; Copenhagen, and Yokohama, Japan, employ about 25 people in total.
But the company has seen a surge in new biomarker collaborations over the last nine months or so, including an oncology drug response project with Novartis in November, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease project with Pfizer in January, and a cardiovascular disease study with Biosite in February.
“What we are looking to do is add another business …that will focus on assays both in the clinical diagnostics and in the pharma development arena,” said Maurer.
So far, Ciphergen has completed over 50 projects for pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. In addition, the company has been doing in-house projects, mostly with academic collaborators who provide access to clinical samples and expertise. Maurer expects that “sometime in 2004 you will see the first homebrew assays on our platform” in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infectious diseases.
The biomarker business arm benefits Ciphergen in several ways, according to Eric Schmidt, an analyst who covers Ciphergen for SG Cowen Securities. Not only do the biomarker collaborations provide the company with an additional revenue stream, but they may also boost its instrumentation sales. BioMérieux, for example, purchased one SELDI mass spectrometry system as part of the collaboration. Moreover, “there is a long-term potential opportunity for Ciphergen in intellectual property and in selling of diagnostics, but that opportunity is probably several years away and therefore very hard to quan tify,” said Schmidt.