ATLANTA—Serologicals Corp. recently announced that Chemicon International, its wholly-owned Temecula, Calif.-based subsidiary, had entered into a research and development agreement with Pittsburgh-based Cellumen to commercialize a cytotoxicity profiling panel and services designed with Chemicon's cellular assay reagents and system cell biology approach.
Chemicon will focus on the development and production of the resulting assays and panels, while Cellumen will focus on their use in profiling services and knowledge generation. The companies will jointly market these solutions to the pharmaceutical industry. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Cellumen's contribution of informatics processing power to the collaboration will be one of the keys to its success, the companies note.
"Informatics will play a very important part of the systems cell biology work because a key element of that work is looking at 'fingerprints' of cellular response, which means taking the focus off a single target or single pathway and looking a wide variety of cellular systems and how they respond to treatment," explains Dr. D. Lansing Taylor, CEO of Cellumen.
At the same time, though, the work is collaborative because the informatics cannot carry the burden alone.
"It's really necessary to have a good combination of the front end, picking the right cellular parameters and reagents and then a readout system to measure them, and then the ability to make heads or tails out of that information at the back end with an informatics system," Taylor says.
Both parties have high hopes for success, but the deal is still in its early stages, points out Dennis Harris, vice president for global R&D/business development and CSO of Serologicals Corp. "At this stage, we're really trying to define the program in detail, figure out which reagents we will need, and so on," he says.
The end result would be a cytotoxicity profiling system that can help prioritize potential drug compounds for further testing. The system doesn't have to be perfectly predictive, Harris and Taylor note, but the better it is, the more time and money it could save discovery efforts, given that something on the order of 80 percent of drug candidates fail at some point during development, often due to toxicity issues.
"The use of cellular systems to profile toxic responses at the earliest stages in drug development will enhance the ability of our pharmaceutical customers to select appropriate compounds for further development and represents a major opportunity to address the attrition rate in the process," says Jeffrey D. Linton, president of Chemicon and its sister company, Charlottesville, Va.-based Upstate, which comprise Serologicals' research segment.
"Long term, we'd want to see a system that is truly predictive for tox testing,"Taylornotes. "That's the holy grail that no one has achieved thus far. But I also don't know that anyone has tried the level of sophistication that Cellumen and Chemicon are going for, either. I don't know that we are going to be the ones to get to that point, but we could be an important step in that direction of a truly predictive system—which is something that could dramatically change the course of drug discovery for the better."