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Vancouver's Brain Center Takes Over PepMetric's Peptide Services Business

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The Brain Research Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, has taken over the proteomic services once offered by PepMetric Technologies, according to a PepMetric official.
 
The brain center had been a customer of PepMetric and had agreed to take over the peptide synthesis and array business as a service to scientists in a region where such facilities and services are difficult to find, said Bill Campbell, the CEO and a board member of PepMetric, and an advisor to the Vancouver brain center’s Peptide Proteomic Core Facility.
 
The turn of events highlights the challenges still faced by proteomic-related businesses even as a growing number of life-science companies are beginning to see renewed commercial potential in the field.
 
The brain center began offering the services in September after PepMetric decided it could no longer continue doing so. “Basically [we] were stopping the service,” Campbell said. “The service was not very profitable. The company decided to go ahead and strictly be an outsourcing one, so we didn’t have the lab anymore [and] we weren’t keeping all the equipment.”
 
According to Campbell, PepMetric’s peptide services business had been generating between CA$336,000 ($300,000) and CA$360,000 in revenues each year.
 
At this point, PepMetric has no employees and while still open for business is looking for funding, Campbell said.
 
PepMetric was founded in 2003 as a service to synthesize and sell peptides, “and that turned out to be [nothing] that the investors in PepMetric were interested in,” Campbell said this week. “When you’re selling $28,000, $30,000 a month, to run a facility with 12 people, it was costing a lot more” than what investors were willing to bear, he said.
 
“In terms of investors that want to put money into projects in the company, nobody is going to give you $5 million if you’re generating $28,000 a month,” he added.
 
Pepmetric’s equipment has been moved to the brain center, a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health hospital and the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia. No money was exchanged between the two parties, but PepMetric has agreed to pay the brain center on a fee-for-service basis for potential research that may be done at the peptide facility
 
Requests for interviews with officials at the brain center were referred to Campbell.
 
The Business of Proteins
 
The story of the proteomic services facility in some ways reflects the current state of proteomics as a business venture. After popularity in proteomics surged among scientists and entrepreneurs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, interest slowly began to wane after players realized that the complexity of the proteome would not lead to drugs or diagnostics as quickly as they had hoped.
 
Many shops closed and most investors fled the space, deciding instead to wait until the technology further matured before jumping back in.
 

“Basically [we] were stopping the service. [It was] was not very profitable. The company decided to go ahead and strictly be an outsourcing one, so we didn’t have the lab anymore [and] we weren’t keeping all the equipment.”

But the need for proteomics services seem to be slowly rising, as reflected by growing revenue from companies with proteomic divisions, even if the field remains too young to carry an entire business.
 
Developments in recent months suggest that some in the business community have middling, if not high, hopes for proteomics.
 
In July, for example, the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Proteomic Fractionation Group partnered with BioMachines to create a new division within BioMachines offering protein analysis services. At the time, BioMachines CEO Tom Larrichio said that the demand for proteomics services was slowly climbing and predicted that in five years proteomics services would generate half of the company’s total revenues [See PM 07/20/06].
 
In addition, during the UBS Life Sciences conference held in New York last week, several companies said their proteomics businesses are healthy revenue drivers [See PM 09/28/06].
 
And in a recent interview with ProteoMonitor, Brad Crutchfield, vice president and group manager of Bio-Rad’s Life Science business, cited the increasing commercial potential of proteomics [see related interview, this issue]. 
 
Among the services that the Vancouver peptide facility now offers are peptide library screening, epitope mapping, custom peptide synthesis, peptide screening, and substitute analysis using peptide arrays.
 
The peptide facility, housed on the campus of the UBC Hospital site of Vancouver Coastal Health, is offering the services to members of the brain center as well as outside clients.
 
The facility has two multipep synthesizers, one autospotter, two high-performance liquid chromatographers, one lyophilizer, and access to three mass spectrometers on the brain center campus. The mass specs are a MALDI, a MALDI/TOF, and a tandem mass spec.

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