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Zyomyx Calls on Specialty Laboratories to Validate its Protein Chip in Diagnostics

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Zyomyx is off for a check-up with a diagnostics specialist: Last week, the Hayward, California-based protein chip maker said it would grant Specialty Laboratories, which offers and develops specialized clinical tests, early access to its protein biochip platform to find diagnostic protein patterns.

“It’s important for us to get some validation of our technology in a real research setting,” said Nicholas Naclerio, Zyomyx’s chief business officer. Specialty, with its large archive of patient samples, “provides us with that high-throughput environment.”

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Specialty will initially have access to Zymoyx’s antibody arrays designed to detect cytokines — proteins involved in inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Zymoyx said its chips have 6 x 200 features and can assay up to six samples in parallel, and Specialty will use this capability to screen some of the samples it collects from hundreds of thousands of patients every year. As the relationship progresses, Naclerio said Zyomyx and Specialty will develop chips to detect other types of proteins.

Specialty can use the disease marker profiles it discovers using Zyomyx’s chips to develop exclusive in-house “home-brew” tests, while Zyomyx retains the rights to other uses, such as in in vitro diagnostic test kits. However, Naclerio said Zyomyx will probably not develop these tests by itself: “We are more likely to do that in partnership with other diagnostic companies” that could contribute their medical expertise.

Unlike other protein chip platforms, such as that marketed by Ciphergen, Zyomyx’s arrays can determine the concentrations of a fixed set of known proteins that bind to it. To do this, the company has designed a silicon chip surface with an array of posts. The top of each post is coated with an organic, “protein-friendly” surface that binds biotinylated antibodies or antibody mimics via streptavidin. Zyomyx then uses fluorescently labeled secondary antibodies to detect when a binding event has occurred. This January, it was granted a US patent for this arraying technology. Currently, Zyomyx obtains its antibodies—or analogous capture agents—through a partnership with BD Biosciences.

Specialty’s interest in Zyomyx’s platform stems from its capability to assay dozens of markers in parallel. “We see that as an important component of laboratory medicine in the future,” said Greg Mann, Specialty’s director of corporate communications.

Mann added that Specialty has also tested new technologies from companies such as Sequenom, Luminex, Third Wave, and Beckman Coulter for their diagnostic potential. From Specialty’s perspective, these collaborations potentially expand the company’s portfolio of clinical tests, while providing a platform company such as Zyomyx “with the immediate prospect of a revenue stream for an emerging technology,” Mann said. By offering the test to physicians, he added, Specialty also “prime[s] the market for a diagnostic kit” that a partner like Zyomyx might want to develop and commercialize.

The partnership with Specialty is not the first step Zyomyx has taken into the diagnostics arena — at the end of 2000, it entered into a product development collaboration with Fujirebio, a Japanese diagnostics company. But Naclerio said Zyomyx is seeking additional partnerships with academic centers, as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, that are “certainly not exclusively focused on the diagnostics area.” Instead, Zyomyx is hoping to put its biochip platform, which it plans to launch commercially in early 2003, to use in drug development. “That will probably be a bigger market,” Naclerio added.

— JK

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