Responding to the market

Cellectricon and BioFocus team up to advance high-throughput ion channel drug discovery

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden—Seeking to increase its capacity for electrophysiology-based screening against ligand-gated targets—and offer its clients a full range of options for screening and follow-up studies—contract research organization BioFocus DPI announced in May a collaboration with automated screening solution provider Cellectricon in which BioFocus will utilize Cellectricon's Dynaflow HT, a fully automated patch clamp (APC) system, to further increase its electrophysiology-based screening capacity, particularly for fast ligand-gated ion channels.

Financial terms of the collaboration, which will formally introduce Dynaflow HT to the market, were not disclosed. According to Cellectricon, the microfluidic ion channel screening platform is the world's first APC technology enabling high-throughput screening of all kinds of ion channels, either voltage-gated or ligand-gated. Dynaflow HT is fully automated, and its rapid compound exchange enables highly complex perfusion protocols, improving data quality and reducing compound usage.

Dr. Andrew Southan, director of Ion Channel Biology at BioFocus, says the collaboration will allow the company to become a very early adopter of the system and ensure that it is offering its clients the most up-to-date technology.

"The Dynaflow HT is clearly a well thought-out and novel instrument that has the potential to significantly advance throughput for electrophysiology-based screening against ligand-gated ion channels," Southan says. "BioFocus already has extensive assay development and screening experience for ion channel targets, and we can apply this to help introduce the new instrument to the market."

In recent years, BioFocus has placed particular emphasis on the use of IonWorks Quattro automated electrophysiology for screening and the creation of innovative assay protocols that maximize data-gathering opportunities for voltage-gated ion channel targets, Southan says, adding, "We now envision Cellectricon Dynaflow HT technology facilitating the introduction of a further enhancement to our service offering, and we feel confident that electrophysiology-based screening for ligand-gated ion channels will become an industry standard approach over the next few years. BioFocus DPI aims to be at the forefront of that introduction."

Southan says that in addition to the consistent demand for electrophysiology-based screening against voltage-gated channels, BioFocus is taking on increasing numbers of studies involving ligand-gated and multimodal ion channel targets. But while the company's PatchXpress and conventional electrophysiology rigs offer high-quality data for ligand-gated channels, the throughput and relative cost per datapoint means there is scope for significant improvement, he says. 

"My ultimate aim is to be able to offer much higher throughput for early-stage electrophysiology-based screening of ligand-gated targets," Southan says. "As a service provider, we need to adopt relevant technology at the appropriate time to keep up with market demand and enable us to offer our clients high quality screening services at a competitive price. Direct recording from ligand-gated ion channels has clearly lagged behind the voltage-gated class in terms of throughput, and we are definitely placed at a point in time where the combined expertise of Cellectricon, TAP and BioFocus DPI can be applied to introduce a technology solution to reduce this frustrating restriction."

While the two companies had no formal working relationship prior to signing this agreement, three of BioFocus' conventional electrophysiologists have worked with Dynaflow Pro products in previous positions, and the companies frequently crossed paths at ion channel-related conferences and trade shows. Cellectricon CEO Jonas Ohlsson notes that because BioFocus is regarded as a leading service provider in this field, and Cellectricon is recognized as a leading technology provider, the partnership was a good mutual fit. It will bring many advantages to Cellectricon, Ohlsson says, like more rapid market development, performance and validation data and input for additional developments that the company has in its ion channel screening products pipeline.

"It is natural that we collaborate on this next-generation, high-throughput ion channel screening system," Ohlsson says. "It will allow both companies to strengthen their respective offerings to the market. It will also give both companies exposure to the market for higher throughput, lower cost per datapoint APCs and more importantly, more ion channels targets, like ligand-gated, in screening assays. More clients in need of next-generation ion channel APC technology will have access to it faster and in a more flexible way—either through the Dynaflow HT instrument directly, or through contracting with Biofocus. We are very positive that our system brings to market what it needs at the right time."

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