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Xerion and Nanotype to Develop Protein Chip for Studying Nerve Stem Cells

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Two Munich startups, Nanotype and Xerion Pharmaceuticals, have joined forces to develop a protein chip for studying neural stem cell behavior and differentiation, Nanotype said Dec. 13.

Developing the chip will take two to three years, with funding for the first year provided by a grant from the German Ministry of Research.

Xerion’s academic partners at the University of Ulm and Leipzig will identify potential drug targets using 2D electrophoresis gel techniques, and Xerion will then generate binders to the proteins using a phage-based technology.

The two-phase project will also attempt to apply the chip technology to finding new treatments for central nervous system disorders or nerve damage from spinal cord injuries, said Fritz Rudert, director of business development at Xerion.

Protein chips in neurodegenerative diseases will serve “a major unmet need,” said Rudert. “There’s a lot to be learned about the function of cells in this context.”

Xerion will validate the targets in cells using chromophore-assisted laser inactivation, a technique developed by scientists at Xerion and Tufts University for knocking out a protein’s function in the cell with the help of a laser.

Nanotype, for its part, will use its C-Fit technology as a method for detecting the binding of proteins to antigens placed on a solid substrate. The chip-based technology is derived from the principle of the atomic force microscope, and can measure variations in interaction energy. The C-Fit technology, developed by Nanotype co-founder Hermann Gaub, allows parallel analysis of many binding interactions on a single substrate.

“He found a way to put all of the intelligence of the atomic force microscope into an assembly of a few molecules,” said Gunnar Brink, Nanotype’s CEO. “We are not using scales, [but rather] a nanoscale device that can be printed onto a silicon or glass surface.”

After the sample is applied to the first chip, a second chip is applied to the surface of the first to differentiate between specific- and non-specific binding events. Xerion has applied for a patent on the technology, and expects it to be granted in February 2002.

In addition to the Xerion partnership, Nanotype, which raised 3.5 million Euro ($3.15 million) in early-stage financing, is also conducting a feasibility study for a major pharmaceutical company, Brink said.

—MMJ