HILLSBORO, Ore.—FEI and Sweden-based Sidec Technologies recently announced a collaboration that will see the two companies commercialize protein tomography platforms and services based on Sidec's proprietary software and IP and FEI's transmission electron microscopy (TEM) portfolio. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to FEI, the protein tomography market is estimated at $200 million and is expected to rise dramatically.
"FEI has a great history working with academic life science researchers and has developed several key technologies for structural biology and proteins," says Jack Elands, FEI nanobio/pharma market director. "My pharma background told me immediately that Sidec could be a valuable partner to develop TEM-based applications for the pharmaceutical industry."
Both companies have long histories in the EM marketplace, which has traditionally been a low-throughput technology for detailed analysis of large complexes and cell systems. Over the last decade or so, however, companies like FEI and Sidec have pushed the technology such that scientists can combine EM with computational imaging to examine the three-dimensional structures of individual proteins; often proteins that are not easily studied by the more familiar protein crystallography or NMR spectrometry techniques.
"Understanding drug targets and the disease mechanisms on a molecular level is extremely difficult, resulting in severe problems with translating bench research into human biology," says Hans Johansson, Sidec's president and CEO. "Many drugs fail when they progress from preclinical studies to clinical trials. Imaging and comparing drug targets from different species using protein tomography provides insight into the molecular differences underlying this attrition."
As Elands explains it, protein tomography has the potential to provide significant insights in areas such as target validation and translational medicine, but few companies have experience in TEM and investing in a new technology without proof-of-concept is difficult. "Sidec's service offering enables customers to experience the benefits of protein tomography by focusing on their own drug targets without having to invest in a technology that they are not familiar with," he says.
There is some question, however, as to how well a traditionally low-throughput technology can compete in a high-throughput-driven marketplace. Elands understands the concern but doesn't think it is relevant, believing instead that making the right decisions based on good data is more important than throughput.
"From a business perspective, the industry is driven by improving the entire R&D process to make drug development more efficient, more predictable and less expensive," he says. "While high throughput was thought to facilitate making the right business decisions, it has not really paid off.
"Protein tomography provides an entirely different insight and has already proven to drastically influence decision making," he adds. "It tells you more than all the biochemical parameters that we use to describe a protein."
For drug companies looking to improve their understanding of drug-target interactions, this might just do the trick.