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Invitrogen Looking to Grab Onto Front-End Proteomics Market, Future Will Stress PTMs

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Fresh from the acquisition of Molecular Probes and the launch of its Zoom benchtop proteomics platform at the HUPO Congress, Invitrogen is looking to dig deep into the front-end proteomics space—and may even eventually expand beyond it into instrumentation such as mass specs, company officials have told ProteoMonitor.

“ [Ours] are tools that customers have been using for awhile. But actually directly associating them with the proteomics market is happening now,” said Kumar Bala, market development manager for the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company. Bala and Jay Amshey, vice president for separation and analysis R&D, confirmed that Invitrogen is making a strong push to expand into the proteomics space and to redefine some of the products it already sells as proteomics tools.

The company has divided its presence in the proteomics market into three areas: proteomic profiling, which includes front-end tools like the Zoom system for pre-fractionation; functional proteomics, under which the company includes recombinant protein expression as well as gene manipulation techniques that are not usually grouped under the proteomics heading; and structural proteomics, which includes protein purification reagents. If the nomenclature sounds like a stretch, it seems that this is because Invitrogen smells gold in the use of the word proteomics. “The idea is, if everyone is looking for gold, we sell the shovel,” Bala said.

For the time being, the golden shovel for Invitrogen is Zoom. Although the marketing platform is new, the technology is not: Invitrogen has been selling the Zoom IPGRunner — an oil-free mini-gel format for running small-scale, small-range 2D gels in under five hours — for the past couple of years. The Zoom IEF fractionator — a pre-fractionation tool licensed from inventor David Speicher of the Wistar Institute that uses solution-phase isoelectric focusing to simplify sample mixtures and enrich for low abundance proteins (see PM 10-17-03) — has been in development at Invitrogen for the last year and a half, according to Amshey. The company officially launched the fractionator at the International Council of the Electrophoresis Societies meeting held in Glasgow, Scotland in May. After integrating the IPGRunner with the fractionator and adding multiplex stains from Molecular Probes, the fluorescent labeling company that it acquired in July (see PM 7-11-03), Invitrogen rolled out the Zoom benchtop proteomics platform at the HUPO Congress in October.

But it was the IEF fractionator, rather than the whole system, that featured prominently at HUPO, where several researchers presented posters and talks in which they used the tool to concentrate low-abundance proteins in serum rather than, or in addition to, depleting the high abundance proteins (see PM 10-17-03). Although the fractionator can be used in conjunction with both 2D gels and with 2D-LC, the integrated Zoom kit provides mini 2D gels only. “Our objective is to take advantage of the fact that 2D electrophoresis is still a valuable method, and we wanted to make it more accessible to the laboratory,” Amshey said. He noted that because Invitrogen had already inherited 1D gels from its acquisition of Novex, it was a natural step to add an extra dimension and stick with gels, but “that shouldn’t discount us from creating other tools that might be applicable to LC” in the future, according to Bala. As for expanding even further and taking on the mass spec market, Amshey left the door open, commenting, “We have no immediate plans to do that, but Invitrogen is a large and growing company and there may be opportunities in the future.”

Amshey said that Invitrogen is honing in on two sets of customers for the Zoom system: small time biologists looking for biomarkers and post-translational modifications, who might be “scared of doing 2D gels;” and pharma researchers and contract workers who are looking for easier, faster, and cheaper ways to “crank out data.” Of course, mini gels that focus on small ranges of proteins are not for everyone. “At the present time, if you wanted to do a single gel spanning the pI range from 2 to 12 and display every protein out there, this is maybe not an ideal way to do it,” Amshey said.

As for what’s next after Zoom, Amshey had one phrase on his tongue: post-translational modification. “There’s a great deal of activity involved in understanding phosphorylation and yet there are so many other types of post-translational modifications that we know take place in proteins. … I think as those tools [for PTM] become available to the research community, we will learn increasingly more about how these proteins are regulated in the cell. Our interest is to provide those tools,” Amshey said.

— KAM

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