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LSBC Wins $12M NIEHS Contract to Study Toxin Response Using Proteomics Platform

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In a burst of sunshine for Large Scale Biology Corporation’s proteomics program, LSBC said last week that the National Center of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) had awarded the company a five year contract valued at over $12 million to study the differential protein expression of rodent samples exposed to environmental toxins.

The newly-awarded grant will add a much-needed source of revenue to fuel the activities of the company’s Germantown, Md.-based proteomics facility. Sandra Steiner, LSBC’s vice president for proteomics, will lead the proteomics analysis of the NIEHS samples.

Under the terms of the contract, LSBC will use its automated 2D gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry platform to study the protein expression patterns of an unspecified number of rodent samples, and ultimately help build a public database of protein expression data correlated with specific environmental toxins. NIEHS will maintain the database and allow other researchers to deposit protein expression data from toxicity experiments, Steiner told ProteoMonitor.

Steiner said the database will be unique because it will allow users to easily centralize and query data on environmental toxins. “It’s a very user-friendly way of accessing and querying the data,” she said, adding that users will be able to ask questions such as, “How does [this protein] behave with the 50 different chemicals we looked at over the last couple months?” Steiner said the database will be “harmonized such that you can put these data into a central database from different sources and have a central query to access the relevant information.”

In addition to identifying proteins useful as biomarkers for exposure to toxins, Steiner said the database would also include quantitative expression data. These types of data should also help researchers understand the mechanisms of toxicity and better explain the observed changes in the cells, she said. Steiner added that she brings experience in pharmaceutical toxicology to the project, having worked at Novartis prior to joining LSBC.

Although LSBC has ongoing collaborations using its proteomics platform to analyze samples provided by GlaxoSmithKline and the University of South Florida, as well as its own internal biomarker and drug discovery activities, Steiner said the NIEHS contract would not limit LSBC’s ability to take on new projects. “[The NIEHS project] will certainly be a big portion of what we’re working on, but the way we’re structured, and the way our labs are built, we can easily scale up to accommodate a higher capacity,” Steiner said.

LSBC’s work for GlaxoSmithKline, which had not been public until now, involves looking for markers in serum, Steiner added. Although she declined to offer additional details, Steiner added that the GlaxoSmithKline project is “smaller than the new [NIEHS initiative].” With the University of South Florida, LSBC is analyzing samples for markers related to colon and other cancers.

LSBC won the contract with NIEHS after a competitive bid process involving “several” other proposals, Steiner said. LSBC and NIEHS will hold their first meeting in August to set priorities for sample analysis, and Steiner said she hoped to begin work on the project as early as September. LSBC expects to receive $2.5 million in revenue from the project during its first year.

Separately, LSBC released its second quarter earnings last week, posting a loss of $9.6 million, or 38 cents a share, compared with a loss of $3.9 million, or 16 cents a share, for the comparable quarter a year ago. During that quarter, before the expiration of a contract with Dow AgroSciences and Dow Chemical, the company’s revenue totaled $5.9 million, compared with $500,000 for the most recent quarter.

Last month, in move to reduce its cash burn rate, LSBC cut its staff by 30 percent, and refocused its R&D efforts towards projects with more potential for generating near-term revenue. LSBC also said it will begin selling bioinformatics software developed in-house.

—JSM

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