Thermo Fisher Scientific said last week that it has entered a Technology Alliance Partnership with researchers at Princeton University.
The new partnership, which involves the labs of Princeton researchers Joshua Rabinowitz, Ileana Cristea, and David Perlman, will focus primarily on metabolomics; proteomics for the study of molecular biology and infectious disease; and mass spec-based proteomics method development, with an emphasis on Thermo Fisher's triple quadrupole and high-resolution LC-MS/MS instruments.
The structure of the alliance marks a shift by Thermo Fisher toward building broad, institution-wide collaborations as opposed to agreements with individual researchers, Iain Mylchreest, vice president of research and development, told ProteoMonitor.
"We've been working with some of these researchers for several years, and the goal is now to pull that together and have a collective sort of relationship where we can share ideas," he said. "The Princeton [alliance] is interesting because they are multidisciplinary ... This group has a multitude of disciplines that are all areas that we are active in today and that we want to advance, so this was really an opportunity to pull that collective power together to give us input to our development.
"We can bring four or five minds together working in similar areas and get some more internal collaborative programs running and get a lot of feedback for areas of interest for us," he added.
Perlman's lab will lead the focus on mass spec methods development, Mylchreest said, noting that, in particular, he would be investigating techniques for increasing throughput, both in terms of achieving better proteome coverage and better processing of high-resolution data.
It's "both looking at instrumental methodologies in terms of how do we go deeper [into the proteome] and do more experiments, and also how do we look at increasing information out of the signals that are provided by the [Orbitrap] detection signals – the mathematical implementations that can actually create even higher resolution from the raw signal," he said.
In this respect, the collaboration resembles the recently announced agreement between Waters and software firm Nonlinear Dynamics, which similarly aims to develop new informatics tools to more fully take advantage of data generated by the firm's high-resolution instruments (PM 8/10/2012).
It also shares with the Waters deal the notion of more closely integrating the company's efforts in proteomics and metabolomics, the latter of which Mylchreest cited as "obviously ... an area of growth" for which Thermo Fisher "has instrumentation both in the market and in development to address." Rabinowitz will lead the collaboration's metabolomics work.
Cristea's work under the agreement will revolve largely around the use of isobaric tagging for quantification of protein-protein interactions, Mylchreest said. In the past, Cristea has worked with the company on efforts including the optimization of its MALDI LTQ Orbitrap XL instrument, but, Mylchreest noted, "our primary focus is on the LC-MS side of the equation, so even though we have MALDI capabilities, it's not a primary focus for us."
Asked about how the company's triple quadrupoles fit into the alliance, particularly given recent work suggesting that its high-res Q Exactive instrument might equal or surpass the performance of triple quads for quantitation (PM 8/10/2012), Mylchreest said he considers the two platforms to be complementary.
"Obviously we have a big footprint in triple quadrupoles and we obviously have an emerging and significant footprint with the Q Exactive and high-resolution quantitation in general," he said. "So I think they're very complementary. I think for very high-precision targeted analysis we view the triple-stage quadrupole as the engine for that.
"However, we do see that for specific applications in terms of looking at multiple residues and more difficult assays where there may be isobaric interferences, the Q Exactive is going to play a significant role in that space," he added.
The alliance is not a monetary relationship, Mylchreest said, but rather based mainly on "access to people and early access to technologies."
"We're looking to [the researchers] for insight into how we're going to develop instrumentation to address a lot of these biological problems that are out there," he said. "So it's very much a scientific collaboration."
He added that there was also a marketing aspect of the deal "in that we expect presentations and publications and visitations into the laboratories as showcase labs so people can see how these experiments are performed. The goal is to use these institutions for hosting visitors and as references for prospective customers."
The Princeton alliance is the first of a number of such collaborations Thermo Fisher plans to announce, Mylchreest said, although he declined to name any specific additional institutions the company plans to partner with. He noted, however, that future alliances would likely focus first on biopharmaceutical development and characterization as well as proteomics.
"I think you'll see a lot of focus initially around the biologics and proteomics spaces where we tend to have our strengths, and then evolve into other areas where we see emerging opportunities, as in the metabolomics opportunity," he said.