Just six months after it began making a push into the RNAi services field, food safety and antibody production firm Bioo Scientific is now taking steps to carve out a niche for itself in the RNAi reagent field as well.
“We’re hoping to continue building up both the reagent side and the services side simultaneously,” Lance Ford, vice president of research and development at Bioo Scientific, told RNAi News last week.
Aside from offering in vivo RNAi research services for customers that might lack the know-how or resources to do such work themselves, the company is also aiming to “provide users with the ability to do [experiments] themselves,” he said.
In line with this goal, Bioo Scientific has recently launched RNA-Porter, a lipid-based transfection reagent designed to deliver RNAi molecules into mouse organs through tail-vein injection.
According to Ford, Bioo Scientific has run experiments in which it has been able to deliver siRNAs into the lung, heart, kidney, liver, and the brain to trigger 50 percent to 80 percent reductions in target gene expression.
“We’ve also used it to … knock down target genes in subcutaneous tumor model systems in NOD/SCID mice,” he added. “We did direct tumoral injections and found very nice knockdown in the subcutaneous tumors.”
Although Bioo Scientific has only tested the delivery agent with siRNAs, Ford said that he expects it would be just as effective for transfecting microRNA mimics and inhibitors.
Despite its new interest in the RNAi reagent market, Bioo Scientific continues to pursue its services business, which has doubled in size to eight employees since the RNAi unit was created in March (see RNAi News, 4/12/2007). The company has 17 full-time staffers.
Bioo Scientific offers siRNA identification and in vivo delivery services, as well as gene-knockdown, oligo-distribution, and toxicology analysis, and has thus far secured one undisclosed drug-development company as a customer.
Ford said that discussions with a number of other companies are underway, including ones with Merck and Johnson & Johnson.
Farthest along, however, appears to be a possible tie-up with Pfizer, which Ford said has “indicated that they would use our services … [and] might begin to identify outsourcing of some of their [RNAi-based] animal studies” to Bioo Scientific this year.
He cautioned, however, that “these aren’t finalized deals yet.”
Ford said that Bioo Scientific is also in talks with a number of RNAi reagent companies about testing their products in vivo in order to “obtain useful data they can provide their customers.”
Among those reagent companies is Qiagen, which has initiated a sort of pilot study under which it is providing certain of its RNAi products to Bioo Scientific for testing, Ford added.
A Qiagen official confirmed that his company and Bioo Scientific have an ongoing collaboration, which he characterized as an “early-stage pilot testing for proof of concept.” He declined to elaborate on the arrangement.
Under another pilot deal with an undisclosed company, Bioo Scientific is testing shRNA lentiviral vectors in animals with the hopes of transitioning the arrangement into a full-fledged collaboration.
“The plan is to evaluate [the vectors] for in vivo delivery to subcutaneous tumors,” Ford said. Both the undisclosed company and Bioo Scientific intend to use the resultant data to support sales efforts of their respective products.
Born on the Bioo
As the RNAi drugs field continues to grow, Bioo Scientific believes its technologies may have therapeutic applications.
“If we can identify compounds that would increase the ability of siRNAs to get to specific locations within animals … [we would hope to] license that out to companies interested in using [the technology] for therapeutics.”
Looking to combine its expertise in antibody production and RNAi, the company is on the verge of securing a six-month, $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an siRNA-delivery technology that uses antibodies for directed delivery.
The company hasn’t received official notice from the NSF that it has received the grant. However, Ford said the company has received an “indication” from the NSF program administrator that he is “going to recommend [the project] for funding.”
For that project, Bioo Scientific will build off its antibody expertise to conjugate siRNAs with antibodies targeting the cancer cell-surface receptors HER2 and EGF, and test their ability to knock down both in cell culture and animal models.
The idea is to “directly conjugate the siRNA to the antibody,” Ford said. “Once you got into the lysosome, the cleavage linker would be destroyed allowing the siRNA to enter the cell.”
While the primary goal of the grant is targeted siRNA delivery, Bioo Scientific also intends to use the award to explore the possibility of increasing the number of siRNAs that can be bound to an antibody.
“We’d be increasing the [RNAi] payload by trying to get as many siRNAs bound to the antibody as we can,” Ford explained. “Instead of having just one or two or three siRNAs per antibody molecule, the hope is to at least triple that.”
Should data from the phase I grant be positive, Ford said that Bioo Scientific would then pursue a phase II program that would explore therapeutic tumor targeting.
“If we can identify compounds that would increase the ability of siRNAs to get to specific locations within animals … [we would hope to] license that out to companies interested in using [the technology] for therapeutics,” he said.