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DeltaDot-QSTP JV to Create Qatar's First Proteomics Facility

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This story originally ran on June 17.

UK firm DeltaDot and the Qatar Science and Technology Park have partnered to bring proteomics to Qatar in full fashion.

On Tuesday the two announced a three-year, $15 million joint venture to create a 500-square-meter (5,382 square feet) proteomics facility headquartered in Doha that would be the Arab emirate's first such facility.

Work at the center, expected to become operational later this year, will concentrate on biomarker discovery and validation with a focus on diseases that are of special concern to the Qatari people, such as cancer and diabetes. Eventually, new technology development will also be included, and contract services will be available, officials connected to the facility said.

The idea for the center began forming two years ago when the executive chairman of QSTP, Tidu Maini, asked John Hassard, the founder and chief technology officer of DeltaDot, to set up a proteomics facility in Qatar, Hassard told ProteoMonitor this week .

QSTP serves as a base and incubator for both established and start-up technology companies in the country and provides services to the firms to commercialize their technologies.

For DeltaDot, creating such a facility in Qatar was an opportunity to broaden the reach of its technology to a geography that could be described as a pre-emerging market in proteomics.

DeltaDot has a "unique set of tools, which make it quite appropriate for a country like Qatar, which is going to try to leapfrog old technologies and go into new areas in the rapidly growing field of proteomics," Hassard said.

The company has developed technology for label-free analysis of biomolecules. According to the company's website, the technology is derived from particle physics techniques to characterize sub-atomic particles.

Compared to traditional gel electrophoresis and chromatography technologies, the company claims that its Peregrine High Performance Capillary Electrophoresis and DeltaTiter systems offer faster run times, improved ease of use, and greater resolution, sensitivity quantification, reproducibility, and robustness.

"Qatar's got very clear national goals to do with the healthcare of its people," said Hassard, who will become the CEO of the joint venture, called DeltaDot QSTP. "We have technology that is ideally suited for building up biomarker panels and one of our main jobs is to help in the development of biomarker panels for diagnostics, and the treatment and mitigation of these diseases."

Of the $15 million investment by QSTP into the project, $5 million is an equity investment into DeltaDot, and the balance is to set up the proteomics facility, said Danny Ramadan, the technology investment advisor for QSTP, which currently houses 21 firms in a 45,000-square-meter complex, including Microsoft, General Electric, and EADS.

Over the next few months a space chosen within QSTP will be "fitted out" to meet the requirements of DeltaDot, he added. In addition to DeltaDot's technology, Hassard said that the facility will be outfitted with instruments such as mass specs and bioinformatics software.

According to Judit Nagy, director of the proteomics facility at Imperial College and head of the scientific advisory board at the Qatar facility, among the instruments that the Doha space will have is a MALDI mass spec which will be the workhorse instrument for high-throughput protein identification; and an LC-MS platform with an interchangeable MALDI in the front end for research in post-translational modifications and quantification, as well as more in-depth proteome analysis.

Officials said they are close to making a decision on which mass spec platforms they will purchase but declined to name them.

The DeltaDot technologies will be interfaced with the mass specs to "make the facility more high throughput, much more cutting edge than anything that you've seen," anywhere, Nagy said.

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Initial research will be directed at biomarkers for breast and colorectal cancers. In addition to biomarker discovery, the center will perform studies aimed at biomarker validation, which will entail new technology development, she said. When fully operational, the facility will have a staff of about a dozen people.

Hassard said that the facility will have a scientific advisory board of "distinguished scholars and leaders in the field of proteomics," though he declined to name them yet, except for Nagy.

Work will also extend into genomics: "You can't really do proteomics in a vacuum," Hassard said. "You actually have to bring in genomics information." He declined to provide any specifics.

Though the partnership was announced only this week, Hassard and his colleagues said that planning for the facility has been ongoing for the past 18 months and insisted that it would be operational by the end of 2009.

"We're going to be very ambitious and it's a very aggressive program," Hassard said. "We've got a very well defined and well-planned program." The Qatar Foundation, which funds the QSTP, "has the resources well enough to do the job," he added, declining to elaborate.

Moving Away from Oil … to Proteins

Indeed, Qatar, whose wealth is based in oil, has been engaged in a broad based effort during the past 15 years to diversity its carbon-based economy, a move spearheaded by Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, who founded the Qatar Foundation in 1995 as a vehicle to fund the transition.

The effort includes making headway into the biotechnology sector, a field in which Qatar has a growing but still-small presence, Ramadan said.

"We'd like to have a platform that can support that growing biotechnology sector," he said. "We wanted a company that would really support thriving technologies, thriving companies, and we thought DeltaDot, [with] its very impressive set of skills they bring to the table, … would be a great platform to start."

The facility also complements another concept funded by the Qatar Foundation, called Education City, which aims to "build a skilled human capital base," according to the foundation's website.

Education City comprises six US universities who have established campuses in the country: Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, and most recently, Northwestern.

"We have the six universities there so we have a really great foundation for a knowledge-based economy, but with that, as we bring in these education systems, we're also hoping to bring in really a technology system as well," Ramadan said.

And while one of the mandates of QSTP is to make the proteomics facility a Qatari enterprise, the work it generates and the services it will offer have the chance to expand beyond the country's borders.

"The things that DeltaDot does … may contribute to activities of another Qatari or Middle Eastern, North African company," Ramadan said.

In a statement, Eulian Roberts, managing director of QSTP, said the facility follows the goals of a wide-reaching initiative called Qatar Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the country's economy and to make Qatar "an active center in the fields of scientific and intellectual activity." The hope, he said, is that the new facility will lead to findings in proteomics that will have an impact globally.

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