By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Adding to its array of partners, protein biochip-focused Zyomyx Inc. entered a strategic alliance and joint development deal with Axon Instruments Inc., for refining instruments to scan the chips for data gathering and analysis.

Financial details were not disclosed.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will develop several generations of scanning products, and evaluate new fluorescence and non-fluorescence imaging platforms.

"We expect to be able to send prototypes out this year," said Lawrence Cohen, CEO of Hayward, Calif.-based Zyomyx. "You would get not only protein chips, but a reader."

The prototype will be "kind of a black box version," he added. "It has all the internal components, although it may not have the packaging. We have a first focus right now on a fluorescence-based reader, but we envision there are many aspects to [the deal]," Cohen told BioWorld Today.

The goal is to pioneer an approach that allows for highly parallel and ultra-sensitive measurements of protein expression, structure and activity, as well as the study of protein-protein and protein-small molecule interactions in high-density microchip architectures.

"We have many ideas about what we call label-independent technologies, where you can follow the reactions in the absence of exogenous labels," Cohen said.

"Currently, what we do in house and believe we'll be doing for a little while, is reading our chips in a DNA chip reader," Cohen said. "It's fluorescence based. There's a little bit of tailoring you need to do [using the DNA reader], a little bit of awkwardness. As you increase the complexity of these chips - let's say you had 10,000 reactions you are measuring - it gets more and more difficult to incorporate labeling regimes."

Zyomyx, which raised $32.6 million in a Series D financing in December, at the same time signed a deal with Melbourn, England-based Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc to develop high-density protein chips based on antibody arrays. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 5, 2000.)

Begun in July 1998, Zyomyx has developed arrays of fully functioning proteins, called Proteomics Biochips, as part of an integrated system to detect specific antigens in samples, such as cell lysates.

Union City, Calif.-based Axon makes instrumentation and software for genomics and high-throughput screening. Founded in 1984, the firm is particularly known for hardware and software used in cellular neuroscience research.

Other collaborators with Zyomyx are Fujirebio Inc., of Tokyo, for research applications in diagnostics and pharmacogenomics, as well as screening tools for biomedical research; Dyax Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., from which Zyomyx licensed phage display antibody technology to develop chips using human antibodies from Dyax's library; and MDS Proteomics Inc., of Toronto, for cell research through protein pathway identification and analysis. n

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