Emerald BioStructures and SomaLogic forge strategic collaboration

Former deCODE company will apply its X-ray crystallography platform to SOMAmer-target complexes

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BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash.—Emerald BioStructures, which provides integrated structural biology services, and SomaLogic Inc., a diagnostics and biomarker discovery company, will work together on structure-based design of chemically modified DNA aptamers—called "SOMAmers"—and small-molecule therapeutics, based on crystal structures of important protein targets bound to high-affinity SOMAmers.

The joint research will leverage Emerald's high-throughput X-ray crystallography expertise with SomaLogic's proprietary SOMAmer technology. The characterized SOMAmers, due to what is described as "their exquisite affinity for protein drug targets," have a broad range of potential uses in diagnostics and pharmaceutical research and development. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but the collaboration will support work on multiple targets.

Emerald spun out of its former parent company, deCODE, when the latter went into bankruptcy last November. Using its core expertise in structure-guided discovery, Emerald helped deCODE put two molecules in the clinic, one of which got to IND before deCODE's temporary demise (the company has since been restructured and has resumed operations). Emerald now offers both structural biology tools as kits and structure-guided discovery as a contract service.

"Emerald BioStructures has a world-class track record in structure determination of complex protein-nucleic acid assemblies. As such, Emerald is the ideal partner for elucidating the secrets of multiple SOMAmer-target structures," says Nebojsa Janjic, chief science officer of SomaLogic. "Emerald's structural insights will drive rapid optimization of new SOMAmers for both diagnostics and drug discovery."

This multi-target, multi-year program builds on a successful collaborative achievement in 2009, which led to the unraveling of the first X-ray structure of a novel, high-value SOMAmer bound to its protein target.

"This structure allowed us to see for the first time several novel structural themes that can be achieved with SOMAmer technology, which explains the very high affinity and unique properties of our chemically modified DNA aptamers for their protein targets," notes Larry Gold, SomaLogic's CEO. "Our ongoing relationship with Emerald gives us the advantage of structural insight to design improved SOMAmers for both diagnostic and drug discovery applications."

Emerald BioStructures is an integrated gene-to-structure contract research organization that provides collaborative drug discovery services to pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, academic institutions, and government facilities. The company operates what CEO Lance Stewart describes as a "high-throughput platform leveraged for fragment-based lead discovery and structure-based drug design."

To many, "high-throughput" may seem oxymoronic when coupled with X-ray crystallography, a notoriously painstaking procedure. But in relative terms, Emerald's pipeline of core labs has the capacity to handle a large number of targets; for example, in the past year alone, company scientists have solved more than 100 high-resolution crystal structures.

"We are also looking at thousands of crystals every month for ligands bound to targets," Stewart says.

If bound, refinement is undertaken to determine how the ligand is bound and 20 to 30 of these can be processed every couple months, he says.

"Emerald has a track record of investing in technology developments that help unlock structural insights into allosteric mechanisms in high-value protein targets," Stewart states. "SomaLogic's powerful aptamer reagents are having a great impact in the field of biomarker discovery and diagnostics. We are confident that the elucidation of SOMAmers bound to their protein targets will enable structure-guided design of novel small molecule modulators of protein structure."

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