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Former Ambion Staffers Look to Make Bioo Scientific a Player in In Vivo RNAi Analysis

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Though primarily known for food safety testing and antibody production, Austin, TX-based Bioo Scientific now wants to become a player in the RNAi services field
 
Founded in 2003 by Jun Wang, a former researcher in Ambion’s diagnostics division, Bioo Scientific currently markets a line of products designed to detect drug and pesticide residues in food and animal feed, and offers monoclonal and polyclonal antibody-production services.
 
But with RNAi now a standard tool in target validation and early-stage drug development, Bioo Scientific sees an opportunity to expand into the in vivo RNAi services arena, and has hired another former Ambion scientist, Lance Ford, to lead this initiative.
 
According to Ford, Bioo Scientific’s RNAi initiative began in earnest when he joined the company last month as vice president of research and development. Since then, Bioo Scientific has assigned four staffers — more than 20 percent of its workforce — to its RNAi unit.
 
Under Ford’s guidance, Bioo Scientific is betting that drug makers will use its RNAi-services shop for their target identification and characterization research.
 
“Our main [benefit] is that we provide services from start to finish,” Ford told RNAi News last week. “We have the expertise in siRNA, delivering [RNAi oligos] to animals … and have knowledge about what kind of dosing you’d want for delivery.”
 
Additionally, “we have a number of different things to offer that [other life service providers like] Charles River Laboratories wouldn’t, [primarily] the critical years of experience within this industry for doing RNAi experiments,” he said.
 
Specifically, Bioo Scientific will help customers identify siRNAs that are “specific and effective at reducing the target gene expression in cells derived from … target tissue,” deliver the siRNAs into animals, and analyze gene knockdown, oligo distribution, and toxicological results.
 
“Depending on how much experience [a potential customer has] with RNAi, we might design …five or 10 siRNAs [against a pre-specified] target … then validate a number of siRNA molecules that work at low doses against that gene in cell lines,” Ford said. After identifying the best siRNAs, Bioo Scientific would deliver them into animals, and then report the results of the experiments to its client.
 
He noted that the company can also provide similar services with microRNAs, either introducing the small, non-coding RNAs into animals via precursor molecules or knocking down target miRNAs through an antisense approach.
 
“We have quite a strong capability here to provide to our customers, [including] ultimately providing them with a custom [analysis] report,” Ford added. He noted that Bioo Scientific would use an outside reagent provider, primarily Qiagen, for the actual oligo design and manufacture.
 
Aside from the RNAi backgrounds of Ford and Wang, Bioo Scientific expects its experience in antibody production, including maintaining a US Department of Agriculture-approved animal research facility, will benefit its RNAi services unit.
 
“We have the animal facility already in place, Ford said, noting that the company has experience with institutional animal care and use committee meetings. “We have that all available for the RNAi/microRNA services, where we can get a particular project approved through that committee [as required by US regulators] and then do the experiments” in animals ranging from mice to non-human primates.
 
Bioo Scientific also sees its relationship with ApoCell, a spinout of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, as key to its success in the RNAi field.
 
According to MD Anderson, ApoCell has developed a laser-scanning technology for measuring drug-target interactions in tumor samples in order to assess the molecular and cellular effects of cancer drugs.
 

“Our main [benefit] is that we provide services from start to finish. We have the expertise in siRNA, delivering [RNAi oligos] to animals … and have knowledge about what kind of dosing you’d want for delivery.”

Under a broad, ongoing collaboration with Bioo Scientific, ApoCell has agreed to conduct the downstream analyses of tissue samples from animals treated with siRNAs by Bioo Scientific.
 
“They do the sectioning, the antibody staining, histochemistry, that sort of thing,” Ford said. “If we use a fluorescently labeled siRNA, they can also look at uptake and knockdown in the same tissue samples.”
 
As part of the companies’ partnership, they have also agreed to co-promote each other’s services to their respective customers.
 
“They will pass along any interested parties to Bioo Scientific for their service needs, whether it be antibodies or RNAi,” Ford said. “And vice versa: If there are any companies that come to us with histological-type needs, we will pass them along … to ApoCell.”
 
Already, Bioo Scientific has signed one deal to provide its RNAi services to an undisclosed drug developer, according to Wang. Ford added that the company is hoping to add “at least two or three additional pharmaceutical companies” to its list of customers this year.
 
Pfizer struck a deal with Mirus in January to optimize gene-silencing methods in animal models, Ford said (see RNAi News, 1/11/2007). “If we can strike a couple of those types of deals here, we’d be really enthusiastic.”

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