Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
"We think the Novartis agreement is a strong vote ofconfidence in our technology," says SomaLogic CEO Larry Gold. "We can nowaddress perhaps the hardest challenges in protein biomarkers for drug discoveryand development: first, discovering what are the actual collections of proteinchanges ('signatures') that tell you whether a disease is or isn't present, andthen having an easy way to look for those signatures once you know what theyare. We believe that our technology is uniquely able to address the significantdrug discovery and development challenges currently faced by biopharmaceuticalcompanies."
Going a step farther, Gold states that, "Personalizedmedicine has to be more than prediction of risk for disease, it has to beactionable; what is the person's state of health at this moment? To determinethat, you have to understand what proteins are being made, and at whatconcentrations, even at very low levels. This has proven to be a difficulttask, but we believe we have succeeded at finding a way to entirely transformprotein-based diagnostics and help drive the realization of personalizedmedicine in this decade. After 14 years, we're well along on short-panelproducts 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 guidepeople behaviorally toward things that are good for them by testing a singledrop of blood.
At the heart of SomaLogic's technology are Slow-OffrateModified Aptamers (SOMAmers), which the company claims are an entirely novelclass of protein-binding reagents that offer a uniquely powerful combination ofspecific binding to individual proteins and facile nucleic acid-basedquantification, allowing accurate detection and measurement of literallythousands of proteins over a vast range of concentrations in just a few dropsof blood or other tissues.
"SOMAmers actually can't be thought of as 'aptamers'anymore, despite their evolutionary relationship," Gold states. "In essence, anaptamer is an oligonucleotide that takes on a specific shape that allows it tospecifically bind to other biomolecules, particularly proteins. However,SOMAmers have special attributes that take them far beyond aptamers in terms oftheir unique abilities and applications. First, the individual bases that makeup the oligonucleotide backbone have particular chemical modifications thatmake them bind to their particular protein target more tightly (much like anantibody binds to a particular protein). Second, like aptamers (and unlikeantibodies), SOMAmers can be generated quickly and relatively inexpensively foralmost every possible protein. Third, because of their exquisite specificityfor their particular protein partner, you can literally mix thousands of theseprotein-specific reagents into a single sample as small as a drop of blood, andthus 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), SomaLogicresearchers and their collaborators at multiple sites describe the large scaleapplication of SOMAmers, uncovering a panel of biomarkers that detect thepresence of lung cancer, now seldom detected until its latest stages. Byapplying SOMAmer technology to more than 1,300 clinical samples, theresearchers rapidly identified a panel or "signature" of 12 proteins thattogether accurately revealed the presence of lung cancer in at-risk patients (e.g., long-term smokers). This findingis the basis for a new diagnostic test under development for clinicalapplication in the next year, the paper states.
"By being able to detect lung cancer early, we finally havea tool to reduce the morbidity and mortality of this deadly disease withsuccessful surgical intervention," says William Rom, professor of medicine andenvironmental medicine at NYU's School of Medicine and a collaborator on thelung cancer study. "In addition, we can avoid unnecessary treatments inpatients who have a lung nodule on CT scan, but which is actually not cancer asrevealed 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 bothphilosophical and strategic considerations.
"SomaLogic's technology is so different from what is outthere and so elegant in its simplicity that people, especially in the mass specworld, can find it hard to believe," says a veteran observer of scientificmedia who is also well acquainted with SomaLogic. "So they really wanted tojust get the information and data out there in a forum where it can stand onits own right, and be accessible to academic and company scientists around theworld."
Observing that many traditional scientific journals havebecome, for the most part, gatekeepers to grants and tenure more than toscientific information, he believes that open-access publications such as PLoS, BioMed Central and others willcontinue to be utilized by SomaLogic. That said, the company will undoubtedlychoose publications with the most appropriate audiences as its technologyevolves and is applied to various diseases and conditions.