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HUPO Names IAB Members, Plans to Develop Tech and Methods Standards

The Human Proteome Organization has named the members of its Industry Advisory Board as part of its ongoing effort to spur dialogue between researchers and instrument and tool manufacturers.

So far, 17 companies have agreed to be on the IAB: Agilent Technologies, Applied Biosystems, Becton Dickinson, Bruker Daltonics, Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, Eksigent, GE Healthcare, Invitrogen, Millipore, Nonlinear Dynamics, Pall, Promega, Protein Forest, Qiagen, Syngene, Waters, and Zeptosens. More companies can join.

Three undisclosed firms did not respond to HUPO requests to join the board, said Jan van Oostrum, a vice president at HUPO who is co-chairing the board. The board had its first meeting last month in Hinxton, UK, to lay out the basic framework for the IAB.

Along with van Oostrum, who is executive director of genome and proteome sciences at Novartis, the other co-chair is Hanno Langen, head of biology research at the Roche Center for Medical Genomics, and a HUPO trustee.

The board currently comprises only proteomics instruments and tools vendors. Pharmaceutical companies are currently not allowed on the board: van Oostrum and Langen are acting as representatives of HUPO rather than their employers.

Other non-industry IAB members are HUPO President Rolf Apweiler, John Bergeron, its immediate past president, and Peipei Ping, HUPO’s secretary general.

HUPO announced the formation of the board last November during the group’s World Congress. It stems from a meeting last July during which HUPO approached 15 companies about working with the organization to explore ways to improve technology used for proteomics research [See PM 07/20/06 and 11/02/06].

Each year, proteomics instruments and tools vendors introduce countless new mass spectrometers, liquid chromatographers, reagents, arrays, gels, and software, all advertising the ability to enable researchers to do something they couldn’t before or to simplify what they currently do.

Despite this, many researchers continue to gripe about the lack of technological innovation, especially as an increasing amount of research is now focusing on quantitative proteomics, which demands more sophisticated tools.

“Today there seems the impression that there are lots of bucks [being] spent, but the results are [lagging],” said Detlev Suckau, department head of proteomic and MALDI application development for Bruker Daltonics.

A number of efforts are underway to change that by improving technologies, including a five-year, $104 million effort by the National Cancer Institute [See PM 09/28/06]. But the IAB is unique because it pulls together many of the major players in proteomics, cutting across national borders and company policies, said those on the board.

“The vendors, along with HUPO, have a responsibility to maximize what can be achieved from a proteomic perspective, particularly as we see more and more quantitation, expression analysis, and biomarker discovery,” said Dominic Gostick, director of product marketing in biomarkers and proteomics for ABI. “If we can focus on bringing up the [least] common denominator, that’s going to be good for the whole science in general. At the end of the day, proteomics will [be] and is being judged on its ability to deliver some answers in the space.”

Standard Fair
The main focus of the IAB, at least for now, is helping HUPO develop standards in methodology and techniques.
Rick Perullo, marketing development manager for Cambridge Isotope Laboratories, said that with people coming into proteomics from so many different fields and disciplines, the need for standards has grown.

“People are looking at proteins and they’re looking at peptides and they’re generating data, which they’re collecting in databases,” he said. “These databases are collecting information from a variety of sources. And the only way for this data to have any validity is to have some level of standardization and some guideline for what data should be reported, what the paper should look like.”

Also, funding organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the European Commission are pressing for standardization in proteomics, said Rudi Grimm, worldwide proteomics and metabolomics marketing development manager for Agilent Technologies. In response, HUPO currently has projects underway to create standards in a number of areas including mass spectrometry, proteomics informatics, and sample processing. And for it to create those standards, Grimm said, the industry needed to be included in the efforts.

While industry has been allowed a seat at the table for those initiatives, the IAB allows vendors to participate on a broader scale, said van Oostrum. In particular, he said, HUPO is looking for input from vendors in training and educational standards and standard operating procedures, as well as recommendations on areas where HUPO should focus.

“The consensus was really that the IAB should support and collaborate with HUPO on its goals, especially in the area of education, of data standardization in the scientific initiative projects,” he said.

At the same time, van Oostrum said, the IAB is seen as a mechanism to educate vendors on new developments in research that may necessitate new technologies or workflows to enable researchers to do their work more efficiently.

“If there is a need to do things differently, or if we start to recognize that the science is moving in a particular direction, we can bring this to the [attention of the] community of technology providers and let them loose with their innovative power, because this is really the place where innovation takes place,” he said.

As the board tries to get off the ground, details about how it plans to go about achieving its goals are unclear, even to the board members. Van Oostrum said that at the next board meeting, to be held in October at HUPO’s next World Congress in Seoul, the IAB will discuss how HUPO plans to go about achieving those goals.

Restraining Rivalries

“Today there seems the impression that there are lots of bucks [being] spent, but the results are [lagging].”

The board will have to clear several hurdles if it is to become an effective tool to spur innovation.

In proteomics, the IAB represents the first time in memory that so many players from the industry have pulled together to work with the research community to improve the science. Among the members of the board are companies that are more used to competing against each other than working together. That could pose challenges, several vendors on the board told ProteoMonitor recently.

“There could very easily be competing agendas here,” said David Weber, president and CEO of Eksigent. “I’d like to think that the people on the board do have the ability, if they’re so inclined, to rise above that. … But on the other hand, we’re all business people, and we all have our own company’s interest at heart.”

Bruker’s Suckau said that while there is no way to avoid the competitive backdrop against which the IAB members will be working, the industry recognizes that improving workflows, getting researchers to adopt standard practices, and improving the science — all things the board is hoping to achieve — will benefit all vendors.

Van Oostrum said that the vendors are adult enough — or should be — to resolve any competitive issues that may arise.

“They should handle it [themselves]. Those guys are all professionals,” he said. The IAB will not be in the business of endorsing one technology over another.

“It’s really about developing recommended operating procedures for all of the technologies that are out there today,” said Gostick of ABI. “It will not be a case that HUPO will recommend one technology over another. We made that very clear.”

In addition to creating methodology standards aimed at the research community, the IAB may also explore creating technical recommendations for instruments. Some IAB vendors said that the matter was not discussed at the March meeting and did not want to comment on the possibility.

A few welcomed the idea, though.

“It’s a huge challenge, but if we really achieve that goal — that we can come up with some specs for such a standard — that would be extremely helpful to the community,” said Agilent’s Grimm. “Because that way, we really can guarantee that people around the world, even in third-world countries where they have pretty challenging temperatures and climate, really can operate mass specs under certain quality circumstances.”

But Weber said he didn’t believe vendors would follow the IAB’s suggestions. “If HUPO were to go down that path, I think they would have a hard time being successful.”

Similarly, there is no guarantee that the research community would follow methodology recommendations made by the IAB, though Gostick said that he believed many scientists would.

“Those on the cutting edge of science will cut their own path,” he said, “but there are a lot of people following in the wake of that. …They’re using the tools rather than necessarily developing the tools, and it’s those people who want to use the tools that I think this kind of initiative has the biggest benefit for.”

For van Oostrum, even if HUPO does not yet have the answers to all the questions, the IAB is something the proteomics community needs in order to progress toward maturity.

“The innovative power from the technology providers together with an open frank discussion on what the science needs will only be helpful for the future of proteomics,” he said.

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