BioWorld International Correspondent

The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) spun out a new company, Zora Biosciences Oy, to commercialize expertise in the emerging field of metabolomics.

Espoo-based Zora has two strands of activity. It claims to be the only company that offers metabolomics services to drug developers in the Nordic region. It also is developing prognostic and diagnostic biomarkers for use in managing cardiovascular and diabetes treatment.

Just as genomics and proteomics are based on building a complete description of the workings of the body's genes and proteins, respectively, metabolomics represents an effort to understand biological processes by examining the biochemical products and intermediates resulting from all metabolic activity.

The company's technological platform is based on mass spectrometry. But interpreting the resulting data and integrating it with biological databases is at the core of its expertise. "Processing the samples and getting the data out is one thing. The challenge is to be really good at putting it into context," Zora CEO Reini Hurme told BioWorld International.

For pharmaceutical firms, he said, metabolomics can help to predict potential drug toxicity or safety problems, or stratify patient groups on the basis of their responses to therapy. "The idea is to get more information from your discovery or preclinical programs," he said. The company is in discussions on potential assignments with several large pharmaceutical firms, he said. Academic researchers also are displaying interest.

Zora is also working on converting some of its science into clinically useful biomarkers. Most advanced is a study of the effects of statin therapy on plasma lipid profiles, which identified an apparent link between alterations in the lipid composition of plasma with changes in muscle metabolism. Although statins have a good safety record, in a small percentage of patients, serious muscle-related complications, including myopathy and rhabdomyolysis, have been reported. "We're trying to validate the biomarker for statin toxicity," Hurme said. "We will take this as far as we can with the clinical material that is available."

Zora founder and Chairman Matej Oresic is head of the Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics group at VTT. He previously was head of computational biology and statistics at Waltham, Mass.-based BG Medicine Inc., and before that worked as a bioinformatics specialist at the Cambridge, Mass., unit of Lion Bioscience AG (now Heidelberg, Germany-based Sygnis Pharma AG).

The company has raised financing from VTT; Seedcap II Ky, a fund managed by Espoo-based Innofinance Oy; and Maribor, Slovenia-based private investor Gomar DD.