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With Novartis Deal, Release of New Discovery Panel, Somalogic Targets Proteomics Services Market


This story originally ran on Oct. 20.

By Adam Bonislawski

Somalogic said this week that it has signed a multi-year research agreement with Novartis to use its aptamer-based proteomics platform to aid the pharma firm's drug discovery and development efforts.

The company also announced this week the launch of its new Somaplex Standard product, a panel of 288 assays targeting 287 proteins of interest that it will make available as a research tool for pharma, biotech, and academic clients.

In recent years, Somalogic has focused largely on using its Somamer technology to develop protein biomarker diagnostics in house, and has signed licensing deals with Quest Diagnostics for panels for lung and pancreatic cancer. With this week's announcements, the company is aiming to become a player in the proteomics services space, as well as a developer of proprietary diagnostics.

"Somalogic is committed to being a diagnostics company," director of communications Fintan Steele told ProteoMonitor. In the last year, however, he said, the company "has gotten the [Somamer] technology to the point where it's time to apply it, and that opens up a lot of things."

"We want to be able to give access to people who can use it for other things like target discovery and biomarker discovery – things that aren't related to diagnostics," he added.

Somalogic's Somamer – or Slow-offrate Modified Aptamers – are protein-binding nucleic acid fragments that can be used for protein detection and quantitation. The company currently has Somamers to more than 1,000 proteins, a number it aims to expand to 5,000 within the next several years.

With the release of the Somaplex Standard product, the company is entering a space that has grown more crowded in recent months with biotech firms Olink Biosciences (PM 3/11/2011) and NextGen Sciences (PM 3/18/2011) both launching protein discovery panels in March.

Olink's panel is aimed at cancer research and comprises assays to 74 proteins, a number the company hopes to expand by roughly 100 by the end of the year. NextGen's offerings consist of two panels: its plasmadiscovery41 panel, which measures levels of 41 plasma proteins linked to various cancers; and its csfdiscovery43 panel, which measures levels of 43 proteins in cerebrospinal fluid linked to neurological diseases.

The biggest player in the discovery panel space is Rules-Based Medicine – now called Myriad RBM since being acquired by Myriad Genetics in April (PM 4/29/2011). Myriad RBM has more than 250 different proteins in its Human DiscoveryMAP product and a variety of other panels covering indications including various cancers as well as central nervous system, kidney, and cardiovascular diseases.

According to Bruce Eaton, who was until recently the chair of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and will be joining Somalogic in November as chief operating officer, Myriad RBM represents a competitor for the Somaplex Standard product, but, he added, the companies' panels are in large part complementary.

"There are roughly 120 analytes that are covered in our panel that don't overlap with the [Myriad RBM] panel," he told ProteoMonitor. "So you could almost view it as bridging – you put the two together and they're complementary. The same customer [that uses Myriad RBM] I would expect would want to try our stuff."

The Somaplex panel also has advantages in terms of sample volume and CVs, Eaton said. While Myriad RBM's DiscoveryMap panel requires serum or plasma sample volume of 750 µL, the Somaplex panel can work with as little as 25 µL, which, Eaton noted, could be particularly important for researchers working with limited amounts of clinical samples.

He noted as well that the Somaplex assays all have CVs of five percent or less. According to data on Myriad RBM's website, of the firm's 250-plus human protein assays, 32 percent have CVs below 5 percent; 56 percent have CVs between 5 percent and 10 percent; 9 percent have CVs between 10 percent and 15 percent; and 3 percent have CVs between 15 percent and 20 percent.

Although Somalogic currently has Somamers to more than 1,000 proteins, it chose to limit the Somaplex panel to 287 proteins in order to keep the company's "corporate objectives consistent with each other," Eaton said.

"We still do discovery for [in vitro diagnostics], and we do have the relationship with Quest where we provide them with [IVD] product opportunities," he said. "It was a decision to put out what we felt we could put out without completely undermining our IVD position. If we had given up on the IVD business we would be out there today with the full 1,000 [as part of the Somaplex panel], but there's a bit of safeguarding going on here."

As the company adds Somamers to its overall collection, it intends to continue expanding the Somaplex panel, Eaton said.

Pricing for the platform is "still being determined in current discussions with early adopters," Steele said. He added that it would be "highly competitive" with other discovery panel products.

The Novartis agreement does not involve the Somaplex Standard product but rather is a deal to "engage [Novartis] with the full content" of Somalogic's research capabilities, Steele noted. The Somaplex product could prove useful in generating similar deals in the future, though, Eaton suggested.

"We started talking mainly to pharma and biopharma companies in the last couple of years, and we started having conversations not that different from the ones we had with Novartis," he said.

Some of those companies, Eaton noted, expressed an interest in running some samples to gauge the performance of Somalogic's technology, "and so we started to see that the need [for a product like Somaplex] was out there."

The company aims at the outset to market the panel to big pharma firms and large academic centers like the Broad Institute, Eaton said.

"We've been to many of the big pharma centers – certainly all of the top tier – and have made connections or started discussions," he said. "We're going to focus on pharma and biopharma and the major [academic] centers and see what the response here is in the next quarter or so. That will be the main focus."

"We're not going to drop down to the level of a single [principal investigator] with an R01 sort of situation," he added. "We just don't have the bandwidth."

The Somaplex assays have been optimized thus far for EDTA plasma, citrate plasma, and serum, and the company has successfully tested but is still optimizing the assays in a number of other sample types including whole blood, CSF, and cell lysate.

"If you look at the sample types, it goes all the way from early discovery in tissue culture, to preclinical work if people would like to do that, right into the types of clinical samples that people might want to run," Eaton said. "So we're open to any and all of those."

The timing of the new product launch and Eaton's impending appointment as Somalogic's chief operating officer is largely coincidental, he said. However, Steele said, describing the company's expansion into the services market, Somalogic is "at kind of inflection point, where it's time to be a real company. So [Eaton's arrival] is partly just an accident of timing, but, in fact, a Bruce-like person would have had to have come along anyway."

He added that the company would continue to add staff throughout the year to "meet [its] obligations under new services and agreements with collaborators."

Terms of the Novartis agreement were not disclosed.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in ProteoMonitor? Contact the editor at abonislawski [at] genomeweb [.] com.