By Mary Welch

Referring to itself as a ¿consumer-tech¿ company rather than a biotechnology firm, Ambryx Inc. aims to discover and develop modulators of the ¿chemo-sensory¿ experience using part of a new group of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).

Paul Grayson, president and CEO of the San Diego-based firm, calls the company ¿a perfect example of utilizing technology to exploit new fields of discovery¿ by ¿looking outside the classical therapeutic fields into broader consumer applications.¿

Helping to establish Ambryx was Lubert Stryer, a Winzer professor in the school of medicine and professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, of Palo Alto, Calif. The author of a widely used biochemistry textbook, Stryer discovered the light-triggered amplification cycle in vision and developed new fluorescence techniques for studying biomolecules and cells.

As the first president and scientific director of the Affymax Research Institute, also in Palo Alto, he was a co-inventor of the light-activated parallel chemical synthesis technology.

¿Our approach will apply the technology currently used, including molecular biology, to discover new modulators of chemical reception that will enable new products and techniques in this area,¿ he said.

Ambryx has signed an exclusive agreement with the University of California regarding a set of novel mole cules involved in the biology of taste, including two candidate taste receptors, TR1 and TR2, which have unique expression patterns in taste buds of the tongue and palate.

GPCRs are well known as mediators of cellular function throughout the body, and as a result are targets for many drugs sold by the pharmaceutical industry.

The TR1 receptor is believed to respond to sweet stimuli, and the TR2 receptor to bitter substances.

¿When they were mapped out on the tongue through in situ hybridization, we found they were located in the areas where sweet and bitter were concentrated,¿ Grayson said. ¿To take it more broadly, we are looking to understand sweet enhancers and sweet blockers, salt enhancers [and] salt blockers, sour enhancers and sour blockers, and so on. When you can do that, the commercial applications are endless.¿

One obvious commercial use for taste modulation would be in children¿s medicine, but Grayson predicted ¿many others, and we¿re not just in one species, either.¿ Other uses might be applied in the pest control, agriculture and fragrance industries, and in the creation of new types of food substances.

¿We¿re interested in anything related to different modulating of chemical reactions,¿ he said.

In addition to the two taste receptors in the exclusive agreement with the university, the company has five proteins isolated ¿ all associated with taste.

Currently, Ambryx is in discussions with potential collaborative partners, including suppliers of sweet/flavor enhancers and companies in agricultural biotechnology. The company intends to fund a discovery program as well.

Founded with an undisclosed amount of seed capital, Ambryx had planned to use the money to pay for operations through the year, but potential collaborators and venture capitalists are showing interest.

¿Our first formal round of financing will come earlier [rather] than later.¿ n