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New Placements, Partnerships Driving Rapid Growth of Somalogic's SOMAScan Business

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – With new installations and rapidly growing revenues, Somalogic's SOMAscan platform is becoming a significant player in the protein biomarker discovery service space.

According to Somalogic CEO Byron Hewett, the platform is on pace to generate more than $20 million in revenue this year, roughly doubling the $10.5 million in revenue the platform notched in 2013. Hewett added that by the end of 2015 the company expects to have installed systems in between 20 and 30 core laboratories.

SOMAscan uses SomaLogic's Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamer, or Somamer, affinity reagents to simultaneously quantify 1,129 protein analytes. These Somamers – essentially short strands of DNA – bind to protein targets in a sample of interest. They can then be quantified via microarrays, with the quantity of a given Somamer corresponding to the quantity of its target protein.

The platform, which uses custom Agilent microarrays for Somamer quantification, is able to work with samples as small as 65 μL and with a throughput on the order of hundreds of samples per day. The assays have a median lower limit of detection of 40 femtomoles.

Since its launch in 2012, SOMAscan has derived the bulk of its business from the pharma industry, Hewett told ProteoMonitor. Indeed, this month Somalogic announced the extension of a multi-year research agreement with Novartis covering use of the platform, while Novartis also took an equity stake in the firm.

Novartis's stake is "not so large as to drive a lot of influence as it relates to the management of the company," Hewett noted, but, he added, "it is a recognition that we have done some things well. And, of course, we hope to make them substantial sums of money as the company grows."

Somalogic's relationship with Novartis is somewhat unique in that, in addition to using the standard 1,129 protein SOMAscan assay, the company is developing for Novartis additional proprietary SOMAScan content.

Most of this additional content Somalogic will eventually be able to offer other customers as part of the SOMAscan platform, Hewett said. The extended Novartis agreement covers an additional two years followed by two optional one-year extensions. The project is not focused on applying SOMAscan to any particular drug development program, Hewett said, but, rather, aims to apply the platform across a number of therapeutic areas.

Beyond the additional content generated under the Novartis agreement, Somalogic continues to add content to SOMAscan through its own internal efforts. The company aims to have Somamers to around 3,000 proteins by the end of the year and will launch an expanded SOMAscan featuring Somamers to around 1,500 or 1,600 proteins sometime next year, Hewett said.

As part of this expansion process, Somalogic this week launched its Somamer Discovery Service through which customers can order fit-for-purpose Somamers to specific proteins of interest.

"We've had a number of customers asking us to develop Somamers to particular proteins, and so this is a way the community can work together to help expand that menu," Hewett said. He added that generation of a Somamer typically takes several months and that the company has around an 85 percent success rate in developing Somamers to protein targets.

Somalogic also plans next year to launch several smaller panels featuring subsets of the SOMAscan library, Hewett said. Currently such panels are only available to SOMAscan clients. In an interview with ProteoMonitor earlier this year, Somalogic Chief Medical Officer Steve Williams said that a key advantage of the smaller panels would be that they could run on a less expensive platform than the Agilent microarrays used for the full assay.

"The highest cost at the moment for the large [SOMAscan] array is the Agilent [hybridization] slide, and if you are moving down to a small number of measurements, then you don't have to use a hybridization slide, you can use [for instance] qPCR or Luminex beads," he said.

The company continues working to place SOMAscan platforms within core labs, as well. Thus far, it has placed platforms at three locations -- the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the National Institutes of Health's Center for Human Immunology, Autoimmunity and Inflammation.

"We are seeing a lot of interest in SOMAscan in terms of academic and government sites, and we expect to continue to place them in those sites and that the pace of that placement will pick up next year," Hewett said, adding that he expects the company to place platforms at between 20 and 25 sites next year.

The company also signed a deal in September giving NEC the exclusive marketing rights for SOMAscan in Japan, where NEC aims to market the platform to biopharma firms and academic research centers.

Somalogic also plans next year to open the CLIA lab that it is currently in the process of setting up. Once running, the lab will enable the company collaborate with pharma partners on using SOMAscan to look at clinical samples, either in preclinical or Phase I or II trials, Hewett said.

The lab will also provide a route for the company to launch its own diagnostics, he noted. While SOMAscan has perhaps been Somalogic's most notable success to date, the company has traditionally positioned itself as a diagnostics firm.

It has diagnostic programs underway in a number of areas, most prominent among them lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, it has yet to launch any diagnostics commercially.

The CVD test will likely be the first to market, Hewett said, noting that Somalogic could launch the test as early as 2015 out of its CLIA facility. He said that the company is currently pursuing publication of research underlying the test, with the goal of having a paper out early next year.

The firm also announced this month a collaboration with Children's Hospital Colorado to use SOMAscan for the development of new protein-based diagnostics for the diagnosis and management of childhood diseases.

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