Joanna Albala, a senior biomedical scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, said her lab’s new partnership with proteomics company Phylos is the outcome of “a true networking opportunity” at last year’s Chips to Hits meeting in Philadelphia. It was there that executives from Phylos, a Lexington, Mass., developer of protein binders, happened to be on the lookout for a collaborator that could custom deliver target proteins. Albala sat down next to one of them during a luncheon in the exhibit hall.
“We’d been buying protein targets from various sources, but the quality is variable and it’s also not cheap,” Phylos president Ashley Lawton told ProteoMonitor. “We felt we needed to find a more controlled source of target proteins” to use as substrates when developing binding agents.
Albala’s experience developing chip and bead-based technologies for understanding protein function, and her proximity to Lawrence Livermore’s massive collection of IMAGE Consortium cDNA clones made her a perfect match for Phylos.
The four-year deal between the lab and the company, announced Oct. 11, will provide Albala with what she says is “significant funding” — to add staff to her lab and to continue work developing a high-throughput process for deriving target proteins from cDNAs. In turn, by early 2002, her team will begin delivering to Phylos on the order of 100 protein targets per quarter.
Phylos, a 90-person company that was spun out of Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital four-and-a-half years ago, will use its technology to create binding agents against those targets for placement on protein chips.
Developed in a partnership with Aventis Research and Technology, Phylos’ automated PROfusion platform expresses a library of trillions of different covalently linked nucleic acid-protein molecules, and uses PCR to fish out the molecules that bind with the target proteins.
Lawton, a former VP of operations at Genzyme, described the technology as an “efficient way of finding binding proteins like antibodies that have the exact characteristics you want.” The quantities of targets being delivered by Albala and crew will enable Phylos to output hundreds of binding proteins per quarter, Lawton said.
Phylos intends to market the resultant binders to makers of protein chips. “We believe there is a shortage of good quality content, inhibiting good quality microarrays,” Lawton said, naming as potential customers companies such as Zyomyx, that could use binding proteins to make microarrays, or pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that make in-house arrays.
Lawton cites analysts who project the market for protein microarrays to reach $1 billion to $5 billion a year within the next 5 to 10 years. But if that side of the business doesn’t take off, he said, Phylos has also started to build a preclinical group that will identify therapeutic targets and create new biotherapeutic molecules.