It appears too many would-be customers were confusing Belgian protein biomarker company Peakadilly with a similarly pronounced street corner in London 200 miles away.
“Peakadilly was a very distinctive name, but we did run into some problems with it just because of its closeness with an iconic English name,” said Nick McCooke, CEO of newly renamed Pronota, referring to the London landmark Piccadilly Circus. “[There was] confusion about how it’s spelled and what the company was about.”
With the name change and a fresh infusion of cash, Pronota hopes to eliminate the uncertainty and continue developing its lead technology for protein biomarker discovery.
Based in Ghent, Pronota has been providing protein discovery and analysis services for other companies and doing its own blood-based biomarker discovery since its inception in 2004 [See PM 10/22/04]. This year the company saw significant changes.
For the two years it’s been in business Pronota’s principal source of revenue had been from pharmaceutical companies, for whom it would discover biomarkers and perform pre-clinical and clinical work, such as comparing the protein expressions of animals and humans who were treated with a drug to those who weren’t. To date, the company has recorded approximately €4 million ($5.3 million) in revenues from such contracts, McCooke said.
This year, for the first time, the company went after venture capital to shore up its coffers.
“It’s very difficult for a small company to invest in technology development and the development of its own products solely from the income from third-party contracts,” McCooke said. “We recognized the need to accelerate the development of the company and venture capital finance was, in our view, the best option.”
In August, Pronota closed its Series A financing for €14.5 million. Investors included Johnson & Johnson Development, GIMV, Life Science Partners, KBC Private Equity, and Baekeland Fonds II, the venture capital fund of the Ghent University Association.
Some of the money so far has gone to buy equipment such as mass spectrometers, chromatographers, and robotic instruments. Some funding is also earmarked to help Pronota further develop its MASStermind technology, which uses mass spectrometry techniques, chromatic fractionation, and data interpretation to identify proteins and protein biomarkers. And during the past year, the number of employees grew to about 30 from 17.
Three months later, Pronota received €1.7 million from the Belgian government to develop MASStermind.
“Peakadilly was a very distinctive name, but we did run into some problems with it just because of its closeness with an iconic English name. [There was] confusion about how it’s spelled and what the company was about.”
Along with the venture capital, McCooke was brought in as CEO in late March, replacing Koen Kas, who became CSO. Before becoming the founding CEO of Pronota, Kas was head of the oncology department at the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology, or VIB, and the head of drug discovery at Galapagos Genomics.
According to McCooke, some of the investors wanted someone who had experience leading a life sciences company. Prior to joining Pronota, Cooke was the founding CEO of Solexa, a next-generation sequencing developer which Illumina is seeking to acquire for $600 million.
Pronota’s business model depends on both contract work for near-term revenue and its own research for long-term financial growth. McCooke declined to elaborate, saying only that its internal research focuses on biomarkers for cancer, systemic diseases, drug response, and the blood proteome, and its contract work involves biomarker discovery programs with major drug makers.
McCooke said Pronota’s contract work provides the firm with insight into the priorities and interests of large pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. “So it has non-financial value to us,” he said. “It gives us eyes and ears into the big, wide world, which I think is very valuable to us as a small company.”
About the company’s internal blood proteome research, McCooke said, “It’s broadly true that most diagnostic analyses are preferred to take place in blood because of the convenience of taking blood samples. Blood is the biological sample of choice, if you like. And if that’s going to be the sample that’s analyzed, then it makes sense for the biomarkers to be discovered in blood.”
One goal of the company for the next year is to begin validating internally discovered biomarkers “so we can say to the world that [MASStermind] can produce conspicuously valuable output.”
One thing the company does not plan to do is commercialize the MASStermind platform. “We don’t want to become an equipment company,” he said. “We actually see our business model as being biomarker discovery and leading from there into products.”