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Indiana Proteomics Centers Get $1.8M and Open Doors; Now Seeking Service Customers

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Flush with $1.8 million in total funding from its six founding members, the Indiana Centers for Applied Protein Sciences opened for business this month, serving both academic and commercial customers. Besides standard proteomics services, INCAPS offers validation studies of new proteomics technologies.

“I think there was a need, and we want to fill it,” said James Ludwig, who is “on loan” from Eli Lilly, where he heads the proteomics programs, to run INCAPS as CEO during its first year.

INCAPS is housed at the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center in downtown Indianapolis. Five of its 15 staff members came from the proteomics core facility of Indiana University School of Medicine, the service part of which has been folded into INCAPS.

Called Protein Analysis Research Center, or PARC, this arm of INCAPS will now provide protein analysis services to academic researchers. PARC is headed by the former core’s director Mu Wang, who is still a professor at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Moving the service out of the medical school made sense, Ludwig said, because PARC now gives academics access to more different kinds of technologies than before. And although academic researchers will have to pay the same rates as companies, half of their bills will be covered by a subsidy fund, which is fueled by a number of grants, including $1 million from the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund.

The other arm of INCAPS has two missions: providing proteomics services to companies, and offering fee-for-service validation studies of new proteomics technologies to technology developers and their potential customers. The aim of these validation studies is to see if a new technology is suitable for a specific application. “It’s similar in many ways to the types of pilot studies we used to do at Lilly with potential tech developers,” Ludwig said. “I saw how much of our effort and time and cost was spent in doing pilot studies to validate a technology for what we wanted to do with it. And I thought there might be a better way to do that.”

The technology developers that INCAPS is targeting could be academic groups, startup companies, or large instrumentation companies. Typically, validation studies would be paid for by both the developers and their potential customers.

Both can benefit from such studies, Ludwig said. “Even when a particular validation leads to an answer that says, ‘this technology does not meet these specs’, we don’t just say that, we give the tech developer information that says ‘where is the variability, where is the flaw, or where is the potential for proving the technology?’”

INCAPS itself will gain access to new technologies when it conducts validation studies. “That’s very important for us because a proteomics service that doesn’t continue to bring in breakthrough technologies is really not going to last very long,” Ludwig said.

The centers seem well equipped for their mission: Besides gel-based equipment, including automated 2D gel electrophoresis, they have a MALDI-TOF and a Q-TOF mass spectrometer, originally from IU Medical School’s core lab, as well as four Thermo Finnigan LTQ mass spectrometers for LC/MS analyses.

So far, INCAPS has signed on two commercial customers and one academic customer for its proteomics services, and is looking for more, both within and outside the state of Indiana. For Eli Lilly, INCAPS will look for biomarkers in body fluids such as serum, plasma, and cerebrospinal fluid; in a study for Dow Agrosciences, researchers will analyze proteins from tissues of specific plant strains. In addition, INCAPS will perform gel-based protein analyses and analyze post-translational modifications of proteins for researchers at IU School of Medicine.

INCAPS’ six founding members are Eli Lilly, the Purdue Research Foundation, Indiana University Health Care Associates, Indiana University’s Advanced Research and Technology Institute, Inproteo - a company founded by Lilly, Indiana University and Purdue University that helps commercialize proteomics technologies (see PM 4-23-04) — and BioCrossroads, a private-public consortium that promotes the life science industry in Indiana. Together they have provided the company with $1.8 million in cash and in-kind support.

Of that, $200,000 comes from Lilly. In addition, Lilly has given INCAPS another $3 million as a pre-payment for services that INCAPS will provide to it in the next three years.

— JK

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