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 Sept 15, 2003 | Gavin MacBeath is a professor in Harvard's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He is also co-founder of Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, where (in addition to finding drugs) he is trying to develop protein microarrays to detect proteins within cells. He spoke to Bio·IT World's Mark D. Uehling:

Q: Should a pharmaceutical company invest in protein chips now?
A: If they are interested in applications analyzing serum proteins — identifying multiple markers in clinical trials to assess how drugs are doing — then I would say the area is sufficiently advanced. If, however, you want to use antibody arrays or protein-detection arrays to direct the discovery of new drugs against new targets, it is not sufficiently advanced to jump into that with a large-scale investment.

What is the significance of the protein array?
Protein arrays are derivative of the Western blot and the ELISA. They're not new, but they are powerful. Multiplexing gets you to a whole new level. It lets you see how things integrate. The applications are quite powerful. It now gives you an integrated view of biology rather than a reductionist view.

In working with a variety of arrays, have there been any surprises?
The antibodies are not that good. There isn't a high enough affinity or specificity. What took us by surprise is how low a percentage of common antibodies actually work in a microarray format.

What are your thoughts on Protometrix?
Protometrix's product is going to be useful in the pharmaceutical industry for giving you potential leads on targets of bioactive compounds.

... Zyomyx?
Their chips are nicely developed — a nice surface chemistry. In terms of a platform, Zyomyx is really a leader in terms of commercializing the microarray technology.

... Molecular Staging?
They have a chip that can detect 75 different cytokines. Rather than fishing around, trying one ELISA after another, you can go to mass spec and say we don't know what is going on here. You can tell in one shot. [Editor's note: The company says it can detect 143 different proteins, including enzymes and growth factors.]

... Biosite?
They've got a nice product, and they're multiplexing it. I don't see why they're not going to blow people away. Their current [chip-reading apparatus] is smaller than an inkjet printer — it's the size of a telephone. You set it up in doctors' offices and get a whole bunch of data very easily.

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