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A gram better way to do things
December 2011
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


BOULDER, Colo.SomaLogic Inc. has entered into a multi-year research agreement with Novartis which will use SomaLogic's proprietary proteomics technology to accelerate its drug discovery and development efforts.  
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.  
"We think the Novartis agreement is a strong vote of confidence in our technology," says SomaLogic CEO Larry Gold. "We can now address perhaps the hardest challenges in protein biomarkers for drug discovery and development: first, discovering what are the actual collections of protein changes ('signatures') that tell you whether a disease is or isn't present, and then having an easy way to look for those signatures once you know what they are. We believe that our technology is uniquely able to address the significant drug discovery and development challenges currently faced by biopharmaceutical companies."  
Going a step farther, Gold states that, "Personalized medicine has to be more than prediction of risk for disease, it has to be actionable; what is the person's state of health at this moment? To determine that, you have to understand what proteins are being made, and at what concentrations, even at very low levels. This has proven to be a difficult task, but we believe we have succeeded at finding a way to entirely transform protein-based diagnostics and help drive the realization of personalized medicine in this decade. After 14 years, we're well along on short-panel products for early detection of lung cancer, as one example. But, technically, if you can do 10 proteins, you can do a 'big-plex ' of 1,000. In the future, 5,000 to 6,000 proteins may be within reach."  
The wellness chip, Gold explains, might be used to guide people behaviorally toward things that are good for them by testing a single drop of blood.  
At the heart of SomaLogic's technology are Slow-Offrate Modified Aptamers (SOMAmers), which the company claims are an entirely novel class of protein-binding reagents that offer a uniquely powerful combination of specific binding to individual proteins and facile nucleic acid-based quantification, allowing accurate detection and measurement of literally thousands of proteins over a vast range of concentrations in just a few drops of blood or other tissues.  
"SOMAmers actually can't be thought of as 'aptamers' anymore, despite their evolutionary relationship," Gold states. "In essence, an aptamer is an oligonucleotide that takes on a specific shape that allows it to specifically bind to other biomolecules, particularly proteins. However, SOMAmers have special attributes that take them far beyond aptamers in terms of their unique abilities and applications. First, the individual bases that make up the oligonucleotide backbone have particular chemical modifications that make them bind to their particular protein target more tightly (much like an antibody binds to a particular protein). Second, like aptamers (and unlike antibodies), SOMAmers can be generated quickly and relatively inexpensively for almost every possible protein. Third, because of their exquisite specificity for their particular protein partner, you can literally mix thousands of these protein-specific reagents into a single sample as small as a drop of blood, and thus detect literally thousands of proteins (and their relative concentrations) in a single experiment."  
In the second of two papers recently published in PLoS One (see sidebar), SomaLogic researchers and their collaborators at multiple sites describe the large scale application of SOMAmers, uncovering a panel of biomarkers that detect the presence of lung cancer, now seldom detected until its latest stages. By applying SOMAmer technology to more than 1,300 clinical samples, the researchers rapidly identified a panel or "signature" of 12 proteins that together accurately revealed the presence of lung cancer in at-risk patients (e.g., long-term smokers). This finding is the basis for a new diagnostic test under development for clinical application in the next year, the paper states.
"By being able to detect lung cancer early, we finally have a tool to reduce the morbidity and mortality of this deadly disease with successful surgical intervention," says William Rom, professor of medicine and environmental medicine at NYU's School of Medicine and a collaborator on the lung cancer study. "In addition, we can avoid unnecessary treatments in patients who have a lung nodule on CT scan, but which is actually not cancer as revealed by this test."  

Going public in PLoS One  
SomaLogic's decision to break its news in open-access PLoS One appears to be based on both philosophical and strategic considerations.  
"SomaLogic's technology is so different from what is out there and so elegant in its simplicity that people, especially in the mass spec world, can find it hard to believe," says a veteran observer of scientific media who is also well acquainted with SomaLogic. "So they really wanted to just get the information and data out there in a forum where it can stand on its own right, and be accessible to academic and company scientists around the world."
Observing that many traditional scientific journals have become, for the most part, gatekeepers to grants and tenure more than to scientific information, he believes that open-access publications such as PLoS, BioMed Central and others will continue to be utilized by SomaLogic. That said, the company will undoubtedly choose publications with the most appropriate audiences as its technology evolves and is applied to various diseases and conditions.  

Code: E121118



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