BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON Adaptive Screening Ltd., a privately held start-up in the emerging field of bionanotechnology, said it attracted Frank Craig, former vice president of R&D at Amersham Biosciences and co-founder of Aurora Biosciences Corp., to be its CEO.

At the same time ASL, based in Cambridge, said it expects to close a first-round funding of US$15 million in March, enabling it to complete development of a nanoscale molecular profiling system for lead and target validation. Craig said this technology “could triple the number of successful new chemical entities generated by big pharma partners.”

ASL was founded in 2001 around technology from the University of Glasgow and Imperial College, London. It received seed funding and management support from Generics Group, of Cambridge, a technology consulting and investment company.

The co-founder of ASL, Chief Operating Officer Darrin Disley, told BioWorld International, “The company has developed very rapidly since it was spun out in July 2001. We are developing the technology on four fronts and are in negotiations with pharmaceutical partners for technology access.”

The $15 million would fund ASL for two years, in which time it expects to complete six deals. There will not be another private funding round, as ASL aims to emulate Aurora. Craig co-founded Aurora, of San Diego, in 1996 to pioneer the use of high-throughput screening in drug discovery. The company went public 14 months later, and saw its market capitalization peak at $1.5 billion before being sold to Vertex in 2000 for $600 million.

ASL said the current drug discovery and development paradigm, based on genomics targets, high-throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry, has failed to deliver. While the number of compounds thrown up by this “Hit Factory” has gone up 10-fold in the past five years, no more new chemical entities have emerged from this approach.

“There are plenty of hits coming through, but processing them is a major bottleneck,” Disley said. ASL’s nanoscale profiling systems will rationalize the process of both target and lead selection. Miniaturization will improve cost effectiveness, while improving the quality of information available to researchers making decisions on target and lead progression.

There are four elements to the technology, which are integrated into a single system called Adaptive Screening Environment. The four are “Surrogate Proteome” on-a-chip, for modeling the binding of drug candidates with all proteins in the human proteome in 3-D; Drug Metabolism Arrays, or nanochips for profiling how a hit interacts with drug metabolism proteins such as cytochrome P450s; CytoArrays, which monitor the effects of candidates on multiple cellular processes; and CytoPatch, used to study the delivery of compounds across the cell wall.

Disley said the technology is at an advanced demonstration stage. He expects useful prototypes to be operating at client sites in 12 months.

ASL also will apply its technology to an internal drug discovery program. “We are pitching up initially as a tools company. Within 12 months we will know the full power of the technology and will have our own program,” he said, adding that it will focus on central nervous system diseases and that ASL already is looking at in-licensing targets.