Marking its first proteomics research deal with a pharmaceutical company, Caprion Pharmaceuticals said last week that it had agreed to deliver colon cancer targets to San Diego-based Idec Pharmaceuticals in exchange for $4 million in equity funding plus research and mile- stone fees.
Montreal-based Caprion already has relationships with Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics and Idexx Pharmaceuticals (unrelated to Idec) to commercialize Caprion’s protein diagnostics for the human and animal versions of the prion protein responsible for mad cow disease. But the agreement with Idec is the first revenue-generating deal for Caprion’s proteomics research arm. Until now, the company’s proteomics labs have spent their time performing proof-of-concept studies and developing their expertise in colon cancer, said Martin LeBlanc, Caprion’s chief operating officer and the lead negotiator on the Idec deal.
“We engaged in developing a platform [in colorectal cancer] and proving the principle that this could be done prior to having partners willing to sign,” LeBlanc said. “That’s the reality of biotech today: The bar has gone up in terms of what you need to demonstrate before the money comes.”
To bring Idec on board, Caprion presented data from preliminary proteomics experiments using tissue samples collected from a half dozen patients that pointed to several promising drug targets, LeBlanc said. Idec signed on to fund the studies to prove that these targets are prevalent across a much larger sample of patients, he added.
In addition to the $4 million equity investment, Idec agreed to pay an upfront technology access fee, plus research funding, that could total $7 million over the multi-year collaboration. If Idec can develop antibody therapeutics against these targets, Caprion stands to receive milestone payments plus royalties from future products.
Caprion’s proteomics platform has its roots in the research of John Bergeron, chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at McGill University, who was brought on soon after the company’s founding in 1998 to marry his subcellular fractionation techniques to mass spectrometry. The company obtains its tissue samples via partnerships with several research hospitals in the Montreal area.
The strategy, according to Bergeron and LeBlanc, is to treat the samples with classical density gradient centrifugation, use magnetic and silicon beads to isolate the membranes, and then employ 1D and 2D gels to separate their components. The company then applies a battery of 16 triple quadrupole, ion trap, and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometers, in combination with proprietary bioinformatics algorithms, to identify and measure the relative abundance of specific disease-associated cell surface proteins.
“The location and the enrichment of low abundance proteins that this organelle proteomics approach provides was a key factor in our ability to sell this program [to Idec],” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc admitted that large pharmaceutical companies have not shown the same zeal to enter into proteomics deals as they did with genomics, but he said Caprion has tried to work around big pharma’s reluctance by targeting companies in cancer immunotherapeutics, which is largely the realm of biopharmaceutical companies such as Amgen and Genencor.
“Small molecules are. by and large, big pharma’s game,” he said, “so [their hesitance to enter into proteomics deals] is more of an academic concern for us.”
But LeBlanc added that Caprion is eager to prove that its technology can be applied to other drug development platforms — including small molecules. “We’re thinking about where big pharma can play,” he said. “They also move a bit slower than these smaller companies, that’s a well-known fact. Our day is slowly coming with the big pharma, and hopefully a deal with Idec helps to open up some doors.”