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Proteomics Players Show Their Toolboxes to Wall Street at UBS Warburg Conference

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Proteomics CEOs were eager to share good news about their companies with investors at this year’s UBS Warburg Global Life Sciences conference, held earlier this month at New York’s Plaza Hotel. And judging by some of the backstage talk following the formal presentations, it wasn’t just the CEOs who had good things to say.

Undisturbed by the current economic climate, Astex Technology of Cambridge, UK, said it has plans to grow. The structure-based drug discovery company, founded in 1999, expects to move into its new facility early next year and to increase its staff from 92 to 130, mostly in the area of medicinal chemistry, said CEO Timothy Haines. At least one new deal with a company — adding to partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, and Mitsubishi Pharma-will be announced later this month, he said. The company is betting on its fragment-based lead discovery technique, in which it screens for compound fragments that bind weakly to protein targets, then builds them out into better binders. It has already done this sucessfully for inflammation target P38, cancer target CDK2, and Alzheimer’s target beta-secretase, Haines said. The company is also trying to “rescue” other companies’ compounds that have failed due to interactions with cytochrome P450. Astex just solved its second structure of a human p450 enzyme, Haines said.

Gyros Spins Out CD Products

Swedish company Gyros, a millennium child of Amersham Pharmacia Biotech, said it started shipping its first Gyrolab workstations for its CD-shaped microfluidics chips out to pharmaceutical companies in April. So far, it only provides CDs for MALDI-MS sample preparation: 96 samples can be handled in parallel by spinning them through tiny 10 nl hydrophobic columns and eluting them with a matrix. Data is collected directly from the plastic-based, metal-coated CD. Gyros, which said it works with 80 percent of MALDI-MS providers — Micromass, notably, was missing from the list — is already working on new versions of the CDs, slated for 2003, said president and CEO Maris Hartmanis. These will integrate the protein digestion step and include affinity capture agents, for example for phosphorylated or glycosylated proteins. The company has also been collaborating with Affibody to produce protein arrays, and will add a fluorescence detector to its instrument next year. In addition, it is planning to provide pharma companies with kits to put down their own capture agents. Gyros will open a sales office in Germany within the next few weeks, Hartmanis said.

Bruker Talks TOF/TOF

“It’s a good day for mass spectrometry, at least outside of the capital markets,” commented Bruker Daltonics’ president and CEO Frank Laukien on the Nobel Prizes awarded to two mass spectrometrists earlier in the morning. But the year has not been a bad one for Bruker, either. The company expects about 20 percent growth for the year, Laukien said, and has slashed its R&D spending to 18 percent, more than half of which is used to develop software and informatics tools. About two thirds of the company’s customers work in the academic sector, Laukien said, which still has money to spend. Indeed, Bruker’s TOF/TOF sales — more than 45 have been ordered so far — are “exceeding our expectations,” Laukien said, and half of these instruments went to academic institutions. On the commercial side, Roche alone has ordered more than 15, he said. Direct sales in ESI instruments were also up 15 percent, and Bruker received initial orders for a new $495,000 FT-MS instrument — one from a French pharmaceutical company, and seven from major medical US institutions. Bruker still has various collaboration partners, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Matritech that validate diagnostic markers.

Proteome Previews Prefractionation Tools

Proteome Systems of Sydney, Australia, which recently announced a partnership with Charles River Laboratories, presented a plethora of protein analysis tools, most of them centered around 2D gel electrophoresis, to complement its ProteomIQ platform. Partners, including IBM, Sigma-Aldrich, Millipore, and Shimadzu Biotech, provide the company with marketing channels. CEO Keith Williams said Proteome Systems is about to release a prefractionation device that separates proteins by their pI, as well as an integrated 2D gel and blotting apparatus. A 2D gel that integrates the first and second dimensions is planned for 2003, as is a chemical inkjet printer that can deposit proteases or antibodies onto a protein spot blotted on a membrane from a gel. Shimadzu Biotech has been co-developing not only this instrument, but also one that combines gel imaging, spot detection and excision, protein digestion, and deposition on a MALDI target plate. Ten of these instruments have been or are being installed at various locations, Williams said.

Surromed Gets in the Game

Proteomics companies hoping to build their own pipelines of biomarkers and drug targets “are learning to adapt to the changing environment,” said Gordon Ringold, chairman and CEO of biomarker discovery company SurroMed. Instead of solely focusing on its own marker-based diagnostics and therapeutics, the company now also offers contract and collaborative research. This allows SurroMed “to create biomarkers and dollars” now, Ringold said, rather than years from now. SurroMed also plans to license in compounds that have failed in phase II in order to “rescue” them for specific patient populations, Ringold said. The company’s wholly-owned spinoff Nanoplex, which develops nano-barcode technology, is currently looking for a source of financing, he said.

— JK

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