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Olink and Fluidigm Team up to Offer High Throughput, Highly Multiplexed Protein Assays

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Olink Bioscience and Fluidigm said this week that they have entered a co-marketing deal to offer Olink's Proseek Multiplex protein assays on Fluidigm's BioMark HD real-time PCR platform.

The combination of the two technologies will allow researchers to measure in a single run the levels of up to 92 proteins in as many as 96 samples, the companies said. The deal represents Fluidigm's first foray into the proteomics space while potentially providing Olink a channel to market its protein assays to nucleic acid researchers.

The agreement also marks an advance for Olink's protein biomarker discovery panel business, which it launched in 2011 as a potential competitor to Myriad RBM, generally acknowledged as the leader in the protein discovery panel space (PM 3/11/2011).

Olink currently offers one discovery panel – its Proseek Multiplex Oncology I 96x96 Kit, which measures levels of 92 proteins linked to cancer. According to Simon Fredriksson, the company's president and CEO, it plans to launch three additional panels – for inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and animal pharmacodynamics – this fall, at which point its panel offerings will total between 200 and 300 analytes. All of the panels will be designed to run on the Fluidigm Biomark HD System.

Olink's Proseek assay employs the company's proximity elongation assay technology, which uses pairs of antibodies attached to unique DNA sequences to detect proteins of interest. When the antibodies bind their targets, the attached DNA strands are brought into proximity and ligate, forming a new DNA amplicon that can then be quantified using real-time PCR. The quantity of the DNA corresponds to the quantity of the target protein. The DNA labels can be constructed to hybridize only to their specific partner, eliminating the common immunoassay problem of antibody cross-reactivity.

Compared to conventional immunoassay methods like ELISA, PLA offers higher multiplexing capabilities as well as lower sample demands. The Proseek Multiplex Oncology I 96x96 Kit, for instance, requires only 1 μL of sample. By way of comparison, Myriad RBM's discovery assays require between 50 μL and 750 μL of sample, depending on the panel.

Olink sells its single-plex Duolink In Situ product through Sigma Life Science. However, taking full advantage of the ProSeek Multiplex product, which the company launched in March, required access to a high performance digital PCR platform. Olink found Fluidigm's BioMark HD system to be "the best platform out there to quantify many DNA sequences with high throughput and precision and good data quality," Fredriksson told ProteoMonitor.

The company, Fredriksson said, has tailored the chemistry of its ProSeek Multiplex assays to work specifically with the BioMark HD, which, he noted, is currently the only digital PCR platform that supports the assays. Olink has no immediate plans to develop the ProSeek chemistry to work on other platforms, he added.

In addition to offering a new level of multiplexing and throughput to its existing protein customers, Olink expects the deal will allow it to make inroads with new customers – particularly nucleic acid-focused labs that already own a BioMark HD and are looking to get into protein work.

"There is a bit of a divide between the people who do nucleic acid [work] and the teams that do proteins, and what we hope is that we can combine these two worlds," Fredriksson said.

He noted that biomarker discovery research is seeing a shift toward integrating different omics disciplines, particularly in the academic setting.

"So, I think a lot of Fluidigm's customers will be interested in assaying proteins also," he said.

According to Fluidigm spokesperson Howard High, there are around 370 BioMark HD instruments installed globally.

The Fluidigm instrument lists for $220,000, which, Fredriksson acknowledged, could present a barrier to some protein researchers interested in using the Proseek Multiplex panels. He suggested that omics core labs that deal with both proteins and nucleic acids would be an obvious initial target.

He added that Olink has set up three facilities across Europe that will run samples on the ProSeek Multiplex panels as a service for researchers without access to the BioMark HD platform. The company plans in the near future to open several such facilities in the US, as well, he said.

For Fluidigm, the agreement offers a path for its instruments into the protein biomarker field, an area, said President and CEO Gajus Worthington, that the firm previously explored but ultimately backed away from.

"Around seven or eight years ago, we did a fair amount of work on microfluidic means of doing immunoassays," Worthington told ProteoMonitor, noting that the company was particularly interested in improving upon the limited multiplexing capabilities of traditional immunoassay platforms.

"We actually built some microfluidic devices to try to come at that [multiplexing] problem," he said. "But we realized that we didn't at that point have the expertise in immunoassays to proceed."

Given this interest in highly-multiplexed immunoassays, Worthington said that upon learning of Olink's Proseek Multiplex technology, "it immediately piqued our interest."

"It seemed like a really elegant solution to solving this unmet need of being able to do assays [multiplexing] on the order of 100 proteins," he said.

And, given the Proseek system's use of nucleic acids as a read out molecule and the suitability of the BioMark HD for quantifying large numbers of the same, the two technologies were "a perfect fit," Worthington said.

"We have hundreds of BioMark [HDs] out there being used today, and a number of these folks are interested in doing [protein] biomarker work, so it opens up a new application to them," he said. "It also opens up for people who are focused on doing [protein] biomarker research the opportunity to purchase a Fluidigm system and now be able to do protein biomarker discovery work on a scale they were never able to do before."

Beyond Olink's PEA technology, a number of other nucleic acid-based protein detection methods exist, including aptamers and DNA-linked antibodies. Worthington did not rule out exploring these areas, but, he said, Fluidigm's "focus right now is with Olink."

"We'll be very selective about our engagement in protein expression," he said. "We have interest in doing other [protein-related] things, as well, but they are going to be very selective and in areas where we can make a contribution like this."

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