Sorting it all out

OncoMed Pharmaceuticals and Fluidigm Corp. announce strategic collaboration aimed at sorting and analyzing tumor cells, especially cancer stem cells

Jeffrey Bouley
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REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—Combining South San Francisco-based Fluidigm Corp.'s advanced microfluidic platforms with OncoMed Pharmaceutical Inc.'s proprietary cancer stem cell sorting technology, the two companies have announced a new collaborative initiative to analyze tumor cell heterogeneity, including that of cancer stem cells. The collaboration is also intended to generate unique tools for analyzing, quantifying and developing treatments that could be directed at highly tumorigenic cell populations.

OncoMed will use Fluidigm's microfluidic technology to initially analyze and track cancer stem cells found in human tumors following treatment with OncoMed's monoclonal antibodies. The power and potential of this work, says John Lewicki, OncoMed's senior vice president of research and development, lay largely in the fact that cancer stem cells are believed to be the ones capable of driving tumor growth, recurrence and metastases.
"We love our current technology, Lewicki says, "but what we have now is cutting edge, thanks to Fluidigm, and it will advance our significant work even farther. They have developed outstanding microfluidics technologies that enable gene expression at very small volumes, down to the single-cell level, which will really allow us to understand more about cancer stems cells and quantify the effects of our therapeutic agents better."

In the initial application, OncoMed will apply Fluidigm's BioMark System along with Fluidigm's proprietary Dynamic Array integrated fluidic circuits to perform detailed gene expression analysis of solid tumors at the whole tumor and single-cell level.  

The companies report that this phase will track changes in cancer stem cells found in human tumors following treatment with OncoMed's extensive pipeline of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. But the companies also will apply this same technology to analyze tumor heterogeneity and cancer stem cell frequency across OncoMed's proprietary human tumor bank, which includes approximately 100 human tumor biopsies that have been engrafted immunocompromised mice.

"Single-cell and stem-cell—which in essence is single-cell—research is hot right now and interest in growing rapidly throughout the world," notes Howard High, a spokesperson for Fluidigm. "Fluidigm offers the only practical, commercially available instruments and technology on the market to actually study individual cells. That is why researchers in this area have been embracing our technology and why Fluidigm's business grew dramatically through the recession of the past two years."

OncoMed, for its part, is a leader in two areas of special interest to Fluidigm, High adds. One of those is its leading position in stem cell research, but the other is its understanding and developing ways to treat cancer.

"The personalities of the two companies seem to mesh well as both organizations seem aggressive and committed to their technological approaches and dedicated to bringing positive contributions to the life science industry," High says.

Lewicki agrees that the companies are a good match, saying that "Fluidigm has the most impressive technology going in this field, but more than that, it is a great company to work with and is culturally similar to OncoMed, so that's why we view this not just as a collaboration, but a highly complementary alliance and a very strategic move."

The companies say that the OncoMed/Fluidigm collaboration also has the potential to include novel and next-generation microfluidic and tissue sample-preparation technologies that Fluidigm is currently developing.

"This will be a highly productive alliance. The combination of OncoMed's expertise in cancer and cancer stem cells, together with Fluidigm's unique single-cell analysis technology should yield important new therapeutic discoveries," says Gajus Worthington, president and CEO of Fluidigm. "Our respective capabilities are highly complementary."

"This technology has broad applications, including the ability to assess the safety and efficacy of therapeutic antibodies that have been generated to eradicate these important cells which fuel the growth and proliferation of solid tumors," adds Paul Hastings, OncoMed's president and chief executive officer.

Jeffrey Bouley

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