MDS Pharma Services, Caprion Pharmaceuticals, Gentris, and Massachusetts General Hospital's department of radiology have teamed up to form a new Biomarker Alliance that offers clients proteomic, genomic, bioanalytic, and imaging technologies for developing biomarkers, the groups said last week.
Fred Pritchard, vice president of drug development programs at MDS Pharma Services, said that the idea behind the alliance is to enable clients to approach its members and discuss what might be the best one or two tools or techniques to apply to a particular question.
By having a "one-stop shop," clients who come to the Biomarker Alliance will save time, and have the opportunity to evaluate the "full dimension of their marker question" before they decide what direction to go in, Pritchard said.
For example, a client might be interested in knowing whether the progression of a particular cancer can be tracked either through a protein that is unique to that type of tumor, or by imaging the tumor. The cancer might also involve a genetic component, similar to the way the breast cancer drug Herceptin is effective only for those patients who express the HER2 receptor gene.
"Cancer's a good example of something that could even involve all four members of the Biomarker Alliance," said Pritchard.
"I would say what really makes this alliance unique is that it covers the full space of biomarker technologies," he added. "The alliance is very inclusive of all the different types of solutions that have been provided to a particular question" involving biomarkers.
"I would say what really makes this alliance unique is that it covers the full space of biomarker technologies."
In terms of areas of expertise, MDS Pharma Services will provide bioanlaytics support, Caprion will deal with proteomics, Gentris will handle genomics services, and Mass General's department of radiology will deal with medical imaging.
Caprion's chief operating officer, Martin LeBlanc, said that Caprion would benefit from being part of the alliance in that it can use MDS' biomarker validation expertise, and it will gain access to market segments that it did not have access to before as a proteomics biomarker discovery company.
"Caprion has always pitched itself as a biomarker discovery engine that is adept and agile at identifying proteins in blood," said LeBlanc. "Caprion doesn't do genomics, imaging, and its mass spec engine wouldn't necessarily be the best at validating on thousands and thousands of different samples, after the initial discovery of biomarkers.
"MDS, on the other hand, would be good at doing the validation," he said. "They're set up to do millions of assays in a quality control environment, and they're set up to offer these services to pharma companies."
According to Pritchard, negotiations between the alliance's four partners began in earnest about a year ago.
"We had used Gentris in the past for many years for genomic markers, and we had been in discussions with Caprion for proteomic work as well," said Pritchard. "Over the years, we were certainly familiar with each other's areas of expertise."
It took a "certain amount of harmony" to bring together the four diverse technologies and companies under one alliance and agreement, Pritchard said.
Financial arrangements between the four partners will be made on a case-by-case basis, he added.
"There are no financial incentives between the partners except that we know if we can filter the right types of questions and technologies and get them in front of the right experts, we can direct the clients to the best solutions," said Pritchard.
Currently, Pritchard's team at MDS Pharma Services is working with 23 small, emerging drug-development companies. Pritchard said he intends to offer each of those clients the full portfolio of the Biomarker Alliance.
"We're trying to match the best clients to the best technology, marry them up, and make sure that people aren't wasting their time on either end," said Pritchard. "It's all about efficiency."
Though the Biomarker Alliance currently consists of four partners, in the future more partners might be added if they can contribute to the alliance, Pritchard noted.
"There's no reason why more could not join if the fit is right," he said. "We've mapped the corners of the [biomarker] map, but there are other opportunities in between there."
Other technologies that might add to the alliance's expertise in biomarker research include cell-based assay technologies and information technology, including more bioinformatics expertise, Pritchard said.
"I am envisioning the day when we'll be able to measure the effect of an intervention on the full cascade of activity within a cell by having various cell-based markers that can give a more holistic look at the cell. That would be extremely valuable for certain diseases," he said. "And I think information technology is at the heart of a lot of these technologies as well. With proteomics, it's certainly been a major challenge and a rate-limiting step."
Currently, Caprion, Gentris, and MDS Pharma Services have their own bioinformatics teams, but more could be done to make the information more user friendly and predictive, Pritchard said.
One of the most immediate benefits of the Biomarker Alliance could be in bringing products to the clinical market more quickly, Pritchard said. Because biomarkers not only serve as disease diagnostics, but also as markers to help select patients who will respond to a drug from those who will not respond, drugs could be pushed to market faster with the help of biomarkers, Pritchard pointed out.
Tien-Shun Lee ([email protected])