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Open Biosystems Alums Found Transomic to Market Next-Generation RNAi, Gene Expression Tools

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Roughly four yearsafter Open Biosystems was acquired by Thermo Fisher, a handful of that company's senior management have come together to start a new firm, called Transomic, focused on marketing next-generation research tools.

“The company is founded to provide life sciences researchers with ... tools that help them unravel genetic complexity, which leads to understanding disease, disease development, and cures,” Transomic CEO and co-founder Blake Simmons told Gene Silencing News this week.

Like Open Biosystems, Transomic is taking aim directly at the RNAi market, and has already introduced its Platinum Select line of microRNA-adapted shRNAs, which stem from research conducted by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Greg Hannon.

Simmons noted that the company already has constructs covering the entire human genome and a large portion of the mouse genome. Work is underway to expand the mouse collection, and Transomic plans to build up a library of shRNAs covering the rat genome “shortly.”

One of the key assets of Open Biosystems, which helped drive the Thermo Fisher buyout (GSN 7/3/2008) was its portfolio of shRNAs, including its Expression Arrest miRNA-adapted shRNAs that were developed in collaboration with Hannon.

Leveraging this relationship, Transomic acquired from CSHL an exclusive license to distribute shRNAs based on a next-generation shRNA-design algorithm recently created in Hannon's lab. Dubbed shERWOOD, the algorithm was trained using data collected through the functional testing of more than 250,000 shRNA sequences “optimized for increased processing and potency even at single copy representation,” according to the company

In 2011, Hannon and collaborators published a paper in Molecular Cell describing the development of a so-called sensor assay that allows for the “biological identification of effective shRNAs at large scale,” and the functional testing of the first 20,000 shRNAs. This work, according to the paper, “revealed novel insights into sequence requirements of miRNA biogenesis, strand selection and efficient target knockdown” — all of which led to the development of the shERWOOD algorithm.

As reported earlier this year by Gene Silencing News, Hannon's work has found another commercial home in Mirimus, which markets inducible-RNAi mouse models incorporating the highly potent shRNAs (GSN 4/26/2012).

A key aspect of the Platinum Select shRNAs are their enhanced efficacy over other shRNAs at single-copy representation, according to Transomic Chief Commercial Officer and co-founder Gwen Fewell, who also served as director of product marketing at Open Biosystems.

For instance, researchers who need to run pooled shRNA screens require constructs that are effective even when expressed from a single genomic locus, she explained. “What we're seeing so far is that [Platinum Select] hairpins are very potent at single copy.”

Less than a year in operation, Transomic's offerings remain limited to the Platinum Select shRNAs and a line of full-length cDNA clones, which can be made available in an expression vector, for gene expression experiments. It also markets its Onmifect cationic transfection reagent.

However, Fewell said the company aims to “continue to expand” its product portfolio.

“As new technologies emerge, we will be looking to license [them], not only around RNAi, but gene expression,” she said. “We plan to look ahead to proteomics, cellomics — essentially building out a portfolio of tools that support gene-based research” with an eye on not only academics, which are expected to make up its biggest customer base, but industrial clients.

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