Less than a year after its founding, the Indiana Proteomics Consortium has some promising results to report: so far, its researchers have filed eleven US patent applications on various proteomics technologies.
The consortium — consisting of Purdue University, Indiana University, and Eli Lilly — was created in February to bring together Lilly’s protein expertise and the two universities’ strength in analytical chemistry. Funded with $6 million from Lilly and $3 million each from the two academic partners, it started operating in April (see ProteoMonitor 07-29-02). The consortium’s aim is to develop and commercialize new proteomics technologies. “The approach the consortium has taken is that we define gaps in the marketplace first, and then we work on technology to fill the gaps,” explained John Hurrell, the consortium’s president. While university researchers develop the technologies, Lilly provides them with biological samples and obtains early access to the prototypes.
Based on recommendations from Lilly on existing bottlenecks in proteomics, the consortium formulated four collaborative research projects that five principal investigators — Dor Ben-Amotz, Graham Cooks, and Vladimiar Shalaev at Purdue, and Milos Novotny and James Reilly at Indiana University — pursued. The patent applications are the first fruits from these efforts, according to Hurrell. Five of them fall in the area of high-throughput MALDI mass spectrometry, among them a high-density target with up to 10,000 spots, and a capillary electrochromatography system that can be coupled with high-throughput MALDI. Four other applications relate to the analysis of glycan components of proteins. A novel manufacturing technology for protein microarrays that involves gas phase separation of the proteins is covered by another application, and one patent focuses on microscale Raman spectroscopy to study posttranslational modifications and subtle changes in protein conformation.
But patents — provided they are granted — are only the first step on the way to products. The consortium has exclusive commercial rights to the technologies, Hurrell said, and has licensed them from the universities. They are currently being tested by the researchers with samples provided from Lilly. The plan is to develop prototypes, probably by next fall for at least one technology, which will be beta-tested in Lilly’s labs.
But Lilly will not commercialize any products. According to Hurrell, the consortium is currently doing market research and looking into both spinning out companies and finding licensing partners. “It depends on whether this is a self-sustainable business that can be evolved,” he said. There are also discussions with two additional companies which might join the consortium as members. They might serve as commercialization routes, as well as ways to define further areas of technological needs.
Money for spinouts, Hurrell admitted, is currently hard to come by, since the “whole biotech space has dried up.” But he remains optimistic: “Hopefully it will loosen up, and we will be in a good position in six months.”