Following Oxford GlycoSciences’ closing of its proteomics division after it was acquired by Celltech in December 2003, members of the Oxford Glycosciences’ old proteomics team have decided to launch a company of their own called Oxford Genome Sciences.
Registered last December in the United Kingdom, the company’s primary focus is to help customers, such as pharmaceutical companies, to discover biomarkers and protein targets and to validate biomarkers and drug targets.
“Even though Celltech decided that the proteomics service model doesn’t fit into their business model, and they couldn’t find a partner to buy the division, we still believed there was a great opportunity, so we decided to start our own company,” Christian Rohlff, CEO of Oxford Genome Sciences, told ProteoMonitor last week.
Rohlff said that at the moment, the investment market favors companies that have a strong product, rather than service companies like Oxford Genome Sciences. Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies will always have a need for service companies to perform tasks that they outsource, he added.
“I think we’re filling an important need that pharma will always have,” said Rohlff. “Using biomarkers services has been recognized as being more cost effective.”
During their time at Oxford GlycoScience, members of the proteomics research team were successful in finding some drug targets against Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Rolff said. The proteomics division also focused on targets and biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, various forms of cancer, arteriosclerosis, and inflammatory diseases.
Most of the company’s current customers are clients who used the proteomics services of Oxford GlycoScience in the past. Customers include Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Bayer.
“There’s so much you have to do when you start a new company,” said Rohlff. “We wanted to reestablish our platform and quickly go back to our customers.”
Aside from Rohlff, other key players of Oxford Genome Sciences, who also came from the proteomics division of Oxford Glycosience, include Jim Bruce, the chief technology officer of the company; Albert Platt, the chief operating officer; and Martin Barnes, the acting chief information officer.
Members of the company’s scientific advisory board include Reudi Aebersold of the Institute for Systems Biology, in Seattle; David Kerr of the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at Oxford University; and Denis Noble, a professor of cardiovascular physiology at Oxford.
Currently, Oxford Genome Sciences employs around 25 people. The researchers use 2D gels and gel-free liquid chromatography-based techniques to try to identify and validate proteins as biomarkers and drug targets.
“Most of the technology we developed in-house,” said Rolff. “When it comes to evaluating and validating biomarkers, it’s necessary to run much larger sample sets, and I think 2D gels are just not cost effective and the turnaround time is too slow. We believe the main focus of our technology will be around affinity capture reagents and solid-phase protein chemistry.”
Oxford Genome Sciences’ customers are charged for the screening and identification of biomarkers, and for the validation of biomarkers. If any of the biomarkers identified by Oxford Genome Sciences are used by pharmaceutical clients for drug or diagnostic development, then the company charges additional royalty payments.
The company closed its first round of investment funding on July 31. Currently, it is primarily funded by the South East Growth Fund, which represents Barclays Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, GE Commercial Finance, the European Investment Fund, the DTI, and the Berkshire Pension Fund.
Rohlff said he could not reveal how much funding Oxford Genome Sciences has received thus far, but the company may disclose this information later in the year.
Aside from performing biomarker and drug-target identification and validation services, Oxford Genome Sciences will also offer their technical knowledge to help customers to install and maintain their own laboratory facilities. In addition, the company plans to launch a proteomics database called the Oxford Genome Anatomy Project next week at the World Pharma IT Congress in London.
The OGAP will use the genome as a backbone to summarize all the information about a given protein and disease, Rohlff explained. The database will be available partially over the web, free of charge. Other parts of the database will be accessible only to clients on a fee basis.
“Our OGAP will provide a framework for integrating molecular, cellular, phenotypic, and clinical information with experimental genetic/SNP and proteomics data,” a company release stated about the database. “OGAP’s objective is to explain the size and diversity of the human proteome at the tissue, disease and protein isoforms levels.”
More details about the OGAP will be revealed on Sept. 28 at the official launch, Rohlff said.
The company is currently working on launching its website and on marketing itself outside of its old Oxford GlycoSciences customer database.
“We’re working so hard to get everything up and running,” said Rohlff. “At this point we really want to focus on the services and the new database. Our aim is to become financially independent as quickly as possible and to quickly become profitable.”