LONDON ¿ DxS Ltd. has been launched with #2 million from Northern Venture Managers to commercialize a rapid method of identifying single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in patient samples.

The company was founded by Steve Little and David Whitcombe, who invented the technology called Scorpions while employed at AstraZeneca plc¿s diagnostics division in Northwich, Cheshire.

Steve Little, CEO of DxS, told BioWorld International, ¿The funding will allow us to establish the business and move into profit. Ours is a service business, and we expect to be set up and ready for our first customers in three to four months, and to have positive cash flow within two years.¿ The company, based in Manchester, has seven staff members.

The Scorpions technology will allow DxS to develop a specific test for each of the 3 million SNPs in the genome. This is expected to make an important contribution to pharmacogenomics, the development of drugs tailored to the genetic makeup of the patient. Initially, the service will feed into the development of such drugs, but as they come to market, Little said he expects laboratories to be established to test patient samples to help doctors select the most appropriate treatment.

There already are some medically useful SNPs. For example, hereditary emphysema, a result of alpha-1-anti-trypsin deficiency, causes breathing difficulties, a symptom that could have a number of causes. A SNP test could show if patients have this polymorphism, allowing them to be treated with prolastin. Currently, this disease is underdiagnosed, and it often goes untreated.

Scorpions are unique molecules that respond to the presence of a particular SNP by changing shape. When a positive sample is detected, the tail of the Scorpions molecule flips forward and emits light. ¿The test process consists of little more than adding the Scorpions reagent to the sample and monitoring the increase in light,¿ Little said. ¿The ease of use of this mix and glow feature is one of the key benefits of the Scorpions approach.¿

To date, DxS has developed about 200 Scorpions. ¿Out of 3 million SNPs we chose these to demonstrate that we have a reliable, repeatable system. I would be very surprised if anyone came along with a SNP we cannot develop a Scorpion for,¿ he said.

DxS has no ambitions to use Scorpions in an internal drug discovery program, but it does intend to move into diagnostic genotyping. ¿We would take the responsibility for saying we will find the people who will respond [to a particular treatment].¿ Because the Scorpions technology is fast and easy to use, and works with a small dried blood sample, Little believes it will be possible to franchise the test to build a network of service laboratories. The company also intends to develop diagnostics for inherited diseases and for SNPs that predispose people to particular diseases.

¿Scorpions is as powerful as any other technique for high-throughput screening of SNPs, and for use in service laboratories it¿s better because it¿s a self-contained test, which is easy to use.¿

At the moment, DxS has one manufacturer producing the tests, but it is talking to three others. ¿We want to get as many manufacturers as possible to spread the technology,¿ he said.

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