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Newly Minted NanoBioDiscovery Prepares Launch of Proteomics Platform and Services

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One year after its parent firm began exploring the use of its technology for the life-science market, NanoBioDiscovery is preparing to make its debut in the proteomics space with a nanotechnology-based platform for assay development.

NanoBioDiscovery, a division of NanoInk, expects to launch its Dip Pen Nanolithography technology-based instrumentation during the third quarter at the same time that it will start offering services based on the technology, Bruce Dudzik, senior director of NanoBioDiscovery, told ProteoMonitor this week.

The instruments are based on existing platforms offered by NanoInk but will be customized with specialized interfaces.

The platform to be launched is currently coupled with fluorescence techniques. Early next year, NanoBioDiscovery anticipates launching a second platform that will be linked to another method, though Dudzik declined to be more specific other than to say that it will be "associated with a high sensitivity type of detection" method.

NanoBioDiscovery was created in mid-December, less than a year after James Hussey replaced Cedric Loiret-Bernal as CEO of NanoInk. Founded in 2001, the Skokie, Ill., company operated a business model initially centered on the application of its Dip Pen technology to the semiconductor and electronics market. The platform was developed by Chad Mirkin, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and a founder of NanoInk.

But amid a downturn in the semiconductor space in subsequent years, Hussey, who had been CEO of Ovation Pharmaceuticals and CEO of NeoPharm, directed NanoInk to look at possible uses of the technology in the life sciences.

Though the technology had not been used for life-science applications, Dudzik said that adapting it for that market was relatively uncomplicated. Mostly the work involved changing the coating for the substrates and the tip of the cantilever of the probe.

"A lot of the applications were based around depositions of DNA and proteins but we just never had the resources to put to that," Dudzik said. NanoInk still has a foot in the semiconductor space.

The first result of the company's newfound interest in life sciences was its NanoGuardian division, formed in May 2008. The unit uses NanoInk's nanoencryption technology for anti-counterfeit purposes, including weeding out fake prescription drugs.

Seven months later, the NanoBioDiscovery division was announced, and this past January, NanoInk announced the creation of its NanoStemCell division, which uses the Dip Pen technology to "provide a highly reliable, renewable source of differentiated adult stem cells," the company said in a statement at the time.

According to Dudzik, before deciding to go into proteomics, NanoInk considered the genomics market but decided "the DNA space looks like it's being adequately served right now with the various big players that are out there," he said, without naming them. "But there seems to be a need in the proteomics area with some of these types of applications."

To be sure, proteomics is hardly a booming growth industry, and the recent history of start-ups in the space has played out like a cautionary tale of market realities clipping unsubstantiated idealism. But Dudzik said today's research environment, where research is being outsourced, may work to NanoBioDiscovery's advantage.

"We think the timing is better now than in the past because a lot of the pharmaceutical and biotech companies are starting to outsource more than they ever have in the past," he said. "They've started to cut their costs and looking for expertise in the various areas and certainly I think the proteomics space is one place where they're looking to outsource."

The company is also hedging that its technology will separate it from its competitors.

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The Dip Pen technology is a method of nanofabrication. A sharp probe tip as thin as 10 nanometers across spots a biomolecule from 50 nanometers to 10 microns in size onto a surface, in this case a glass slide. According to NanoInk's website, molecules are transferred to the surface from the tip through a water meniscus "which forms ambient conditions as the tip nears the surface."

The data achieved from an assay created with the technology is similar to what can be achieved with an ELISA or immunoassay, Dudzik said, because the assays depend on the same chemistries and fluorescence techniques, but "because we can precisely place them on a specific location on the slides, we don't get the donut-hole effects or the coffee-ring effects that you get using some of the other techniques for spotting, so you can get a much higher quality array."

Other advantages offered by the technology are cost savings and high throughput, Dudzik said without elaborating. Because of the nanoscale, less of the protein sample is used in analyses so more tests can be run using a sample compared to other types of assays.

In traditional spotting methods, in order to do large numbers of tests or features, tens to hundreds of slides need to be loaded onto a spotting machine, but the Dip Pen technology allows that to be consolidated onto as little as one slide, he said. As a result, costs associated with slides and reagents are reduced.

Dudzik declined to comment on the potential size of the market for NanoBioDiscovery's business but said that one promising market for the technology is screening.

"We can look at doing some protein kinase profiling, things like that," he said. "I think that's going to be a growing market as we look at post-translational modifications."

NanoBioDiscovery currently has about 10 employees but is expanding as it prepares to launch its technology and services businesses, according to Dudzik.

While the service business is being tailored with an eye toward pharmaceutical customers, academic researchers, especially core labs, would have an interest in the Dip Pen-based platform, Dudzik said.

Pricing for the instrument will be competitive with existing spotting systems, he said, declining to elaborate. Pricing for the service business will depend on customer requirements.

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