When developing small-molecule drugs, scientists are able to find lead compounds more efficiently if they know the protein target's 3-dimensional structure.

A new company launched in November - Shamrock Structures LLC - aims to provide services that will help its biotechnology and pharmaceutical clients determine that structure, thereby enabling the design and synthesis of new drug leads that are more active and selective.

The company, based in Woodridge, Ill., offers services in structural proteomics, including protein cloning, expression, purification and crystallization. Its services should not only help researchers discover efficacious drugs more quickly, but also should help companies save on drug development expenses.

"The company was started up and funded by Flavin Ventures, which is an early stage venture capital and management group that's working to establish biotech companies in the Midwest," said Steven Schiltz, who was named CEO of Shamrock Structures in February.

Structural proteomics capabilities are valuable for the design and discovery of drug therapies to treat life-threatening diseases. Shamrock Structures is offering such services through its agreement with the Structural Biology Center (SBC) at Argonne National Laboratory. Argonne, which is operated by the University of Chicago, is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratory system. Through its relationship with the laboratory, Shamrock can provide its clients access to the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a third-generation X-ray synchrotron.

"There's only a handful of them in the world," Schiltz told BioWorld Today, "so it's a Mecca for people using a powerful light source."

APS is a high-powered X-ray source that helps researchers elucidate the structure of a protein, providing them with direction in designing and developing lead compounds.

Through its CrystalExpress program, Shamrock Structures provides an alternative to traditional methods of data collection - a mail-in service for its clients, in which it obtains X-ray crystallographic data through its relationship with SBC.

Shamrock Structures also offers its ExpressProteins service, providing purified proteins to academic or industrial institutions. The proteins come from several different organisms important for drug and vaccine development.

The company currently is working to build its client base and hopes to form similar relationships to the one it has with Argonne.

"As we go forward," Schiltz said, "we will continue to develop the relationship with SBC and Argonne, and also develop relationships and agreements with others and build our internal scientific staff and infrastructure."

Shamrock Structure's initial funding was not disclosed, but Schiltz said the company will not need to raise additional funds anytime soon, if it can establish a good client base.

"As a service provider we intend to be a cash-flow positive company," he said. The company intends to offer its proteomics services and products using a reasonable contract and fee structure, Schiltz said.

Shamrock Structures currently has three employees, including Schiltz, who is the former director of business development at Woodridge, Ill.-based MediChem Life Sciences Inc., which was acquired by DeCode Genetics Inc., of Reykjavik, Iceland, in January 2002. Another employee, Cheryl Janson, was recently named director of protein crystallization. Joseph Miller serves as the company's manager of business development.

The company also has established a scientific advisory board, including scientists Michael Johnson, Richard Morimoto, Andrew Mesecar, Bernard Santarsiero and Richard van Breemen. Morimoto is a professor at Northwestern University, while the others are professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Shamrock Structures is Woodridge, Ill.-based Flavin's first biotechnology venture. In addition to Shamrock, it has investments in Advanced Life Sciences Inc. and Sarawak MediChem Pharmaceuticals Inc., both of Woodridge.