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German Genomics Service Center Adds Antibody Chips to Offerings, Targets Pharma

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The German Resource Center for Genome Research (RZPD) announced this week that it is adding antibody chip services to its plate of service options.

The move expands RZPD’s focus beyond its traditional DNA- and RNA-based resources, making it the first major service center in the world to provide antibody chip-based protein expression services, the center said. RZPD claims to be the largest genomics service center in Europe.

“It’s helpful to have additional techniques that are more specific than the classical [gene expression] techniques,” Johannes Maurer, scientific managing director of RZPD, told ProteoMonitor. Maurer said that the addition of the antibody array service was not a direct response to customer demand. “[A]t the moment, we just started, so we don’t know how people will accept this technique.” He added that the target audience would be almost exclusively pharma customers, due to the costs of the technology. “I think most of the academic institutes won’t be able to afford large numbers of screenings,” Maurer said.

RZPD initially will offer only protein expression services — for applications such as biomarker discovery — using a commercially available 512-antibody chip from Becton Dickinson. But Maurer hopes to add functional assays using the BD chips by the end of the year, and to eventually launch services based on proprietary arrays developed in-house as well. The functional assays, which would likely include phosphorylation and kinase assays, “are still in the pilot phase,” he said. “We know that it works in principle, but it might be problematic for large-scale approaches.”

Adopting the stance that antibody arrays are still a relatively unproven technology, Maurer is taking a cautious approach to selling the new service. Rather than approaching pharma immediately, the RZPD will select a few “pilot customers” to help churn out scientific publications that show that the service works and is useful. “I think for us, the strategy is first to show to the scientific community that the technology really works. Then I think it will be OK to approach pharma companies. But it’s good to have a sort of proof of principle,” he said.

Although RZPD’s antibody provider is currently BD, the center is also plugged in to larger-scale antibody and proteomics efforts, including the German Society for Proteomics, and the Germany-based HUPO antibody initiatives (see PM 5-5-03, 9-19-03, 10-10-03). But Maurer is not counting on those bearing fruit anytime soon. The HUPO initiatives are “currently not funded — so they are sort of pre-initiatives,” he said.

— KAM

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