Protein Forest Inc. did something the industry doesn't often see these days.
The tools and platform-based company in Watertown, Mass., raised a quality first round of venture capital, pocketing $19 million thanks to what the firm's leader said are advantages that set it apart in the field - among them, "the biggest advance in 20 years" in the proteomics separation and analysis area.
"In academics, every few years there is a big advance," said Russell Garlick, CEO of Protein Forest. "There really haven't been any advances in [this field]."
Also, the company has a business model that should bring in revenues before it would need to consider a Series B round.
"This money is going to last us through commercialization," Garlick said. "After we commercialize, we'll be revenue positive. We are a products company, and our goal is to get the product to the marketplace."
That product is the company's digital ProteomeChip.
"It's about half the size of a microscope slide." Garlick told BioWorld Today, explaining that the technology separates proteins "first by charge and then by size. It allows us to separate proteins from samples and identify which proteins are up-regulated in disease and down-regulated in disease."
Protein separation is generally done by 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis. The problem with that method, Garlick said, is that "the proteins tend to smear into each other - you don't get good separation." Protein Forest took today's array technology and applied it to the 2-dimensional gels, which allowed for miniaturization. Using the ProteomeChip, the protein-separation process can now take 20 minutes instead of two-and-a-half days.
The timesaving aspect is nice, but perhaps more noteworthy is the technology's sensitivity. Garlick pointed to the importance of biomarkers in drug development, which allow companies to "get drugs to market faster, and you pull out your candidates that are toxic sooner," he said, adding that current methods of protein separation often are not sensitive enough to detect biomarkers. That problem is addressed by the ProteomeChip, he said.
Protein Forest's technology was conceived by Shmuel Bukshpan, Uri Halavee and Gleb Zilberstein - physicists from Israel. PureTech Ventures LLC in Boston co-founded the company in February 2002. PureTech brought Garlick on board, who had just left Perkin Elmer Inc., of Boston. The company has 10 employees now, but is hiring - some of the funds from the Series A will be used for engineering, chemistry and software support positions. The ProteomeChip is expected to be launched next year, at which point the company plans to be at 30 or 40 employees, Garlick said.
An immediate goal for the company is beta testing in the U.S. and Europe for the ProteomeChip. After that, it will begin to build its sales and marketing team.
Asked about the company's name, Garlick gave two answers. One explanation, he said, is that one of the original investors in the company was named Forest Broman. The other has to do with the product itself.
"When you look at a dataset, it actually looks like a forest," he said.
Privately held Protein Forest, Garlick noted, is in the comfortable position of not particularly needing anyone else to help it develop its product. There are no costly Phase III trials to set up, no need for a pharma partner to finance the technology's progress or lead the company through the drug regulatory process. It has a list of beta site testers. Its only need is people to buy its product.
"We are looking for customers," Garlick said, noting that "there are 10,000 molecular biology labs in the U.S. We'd like to have our instruments in every one of those laboratories."
The financing round was led by S.R. One Ltd., of West Conshohocken, Pa.; Boston Millennia Partners, of Boston; IDG Ventures, of Boston; Novo A/S, of Bagsvaerd, Denmark; as well as private investors.