By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Pairing its functional proteomics platform with a well-known computing powerhouse to push drug discovery and establish a public database, MDS Proteomics entered an agreement with IBM that includes an equity investment from the latter.

"It's a multiyear deal, and we hope and expect it will be a very long-term relationship," said Frank Gleeson, president and CEO of Toronto-based MDS Proteomics.

The amount of the investment was not disclosed.

Gleeson told BioWorld Today the pact will "call on many of [IBM's] broad capabilities. In a way, we're an integrator, kind of a showcase for them."

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM will be the preferred provider of hardware and software for MDS, and will collaborate with MDS on computer-intense proteomics projects. IBM brings to the table three "superclusters" of server systems, with data management, disk and tape storage technology to complement MDS' software.

"We understand everybody needs to use computers," Gleeson said. "What we're trying to do is look at clever architecture and complicated algorithms."

Computers will work with outputs from a network of mass spectrometers in the U.S. and Europe for identifying and analyzing proteins, the first step in figuring out their interactions.

"We have a major facility in Toronto, as well as in Denmark, and we'll be expanding in the U.S.," Gleeson said.

He said MDS Proteomics' platform already was distinctive, in that it linked the science to drug discovery and screening technology, which will be particularly important as part of the second piece of the IBM agreement.

That part involves forming what is to be called the Biomolecular Interaction Network Database (BIND), which will be informatics-based and accessible to all. IBM and MDS will contribute cash and other payments, hardware, software and expertise in kind for the project.

"The BIND database will not only capture protein-protein information, but protein-small molecule information, which will be proprietary to our company," Gleeson said, and partners will be sought to develop findings that hold promise.

Christopher Hogue, MDS Proteomics' chief information officer, said the company had a very involved business process "that we needed to automate, and we needed to tie it into storage architecture. The second challenge was bringing in sequencing information, and having the capability to deal with it."

Hogue told BioWorld Today that, although many companies are using computers for genomics and proteomics, "I don't think everyone is at the same level of concept. The nature of interactions in cells is like the Internet, and software systems that don't have a standard won't intermix."

MDS Proteomics' lead, he said, "is clearly shown by our putting the BIND database in the public domain." The company is a spinout of MDS Inc., of Toronto, which remains its largest shareholder after forming the company last year through the sale of $57 million in special warrants. (See BioWorld Today, April 4, 2000.)

MDS Inc.'s stock (NYSE:MDZ) closed Tuesday at $17.35, up 80 cents. IBM's shares (NASDAQ:IBM) ended the day at $116.61, up $1.63.