MSM Protein Technologies, a spinoff of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is announcing today it has secured partnerships with Germany-based Merck KGaA, and Switzerland-based Debiopharm Group, a drug development firm. The team at Medford, MA-based MSM will work to create antibody drugs that zero in on complex targets on cells known as G-protein coupled receptors and other targets like them. Full financial terms of the deals aren’t being disclosed, but they are large enough to provide at least two years of operating cash to MSM, says chairman Davis Farmer.
“This is really a validation of our technology, and shows we are a pre-eminent player in a potentially large niche market,” Farmer says.
MSM draws its name from a class of important biological molecules called multi-spanning membrane proteins, which includes the G-protein coupled receptors that are the subject of the new partnerships. The startup has proprietary techniques which it says ought to help researchers better characterize such molecules. Every major pharmaceutical company has interest in these proteins, because they are the targets of big-selling allergy drugs like ranitidine (Zantac) and loratadine (Claritin), and many other drugs for different diseases, Farmer says.
The big problem is that these are hard targets to hit. They dip and weave in and out of cell membranes like pieces of spaghetti, Farmer says. Researchers might know the gene sequence that encodes the protein, but it’s hard to simulate how that recipe turns into a precise 3-D structure. And the structures researchers observe when they look at samples of the proteins in lab dishes may not be the same as the shapes the molecules really assume when they’re embedded on the surfaces of cells inside the body, he adds.
MSM’s technology comes from work by biochemist Tajib Mirzabekov at the Dana-Farber … Next Page »