InDi Unit Looks to Take PET Imaging ‘From Black & White to Technicolor’

6/13/12Follow @xconomy

Integrated Diagnostics is best known as the Seattle startup looking to carry out Lee Hood’s vision of spotting cancer in a drop of blood. But the company is moving ahead on another bold vision, in which it is seeking to disrupt the world of molecular imaging.

InDi is announcing today it has set up a new division, called InDi Imaging, in Southern California near the Caltech lab of co-founder Jim Heath. The new division, which CEO Al Luderer says could be eventually spun out into an independent company, will be led by veteran executive Norm Hardman, a former president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FOLD) and chief operating officer of Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX). InDi Imaging will also be advised by UCLA professor Michael Phelps, a pioneer of positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, one of the workhorse technologies of modern medical imaging.

The idea here is to basically swap small molecules for the large molecules now used in the imaging world. Today’s PET scanners depend on using genetically engineered antibodies that are attached to a radioactive tracer, which makes it possible for imaging instruments to construct a 3-D image of what’s happening inside the body. While antibodies are good at specifically hitting certain molecular targets of interest, they are also bulky large molecules that can’t hit all molecular structures in and around cells, they can cause immune reactions, they need to be carefully handled to remain stable, and they are difficult and expensive to manufacture at large scale.

Al Luderer, CEO of Integrated Diagnostics

InDi says it can make small-molecule peptides, through synthetic chemistry techniques, that are cheaper and easier to manufacture in large volumes. These small molecules should also be able to precisely bind with just as many biological targets or more, while cutting down on immune-system reactions, Luderer says.

“This allows you to do things you couldn’t do before,” Luderer says. “It will work like an antibody, but without the drawbacks.” He adds: “This is like going from black and white with no sound to Technicolor and surround sound. It’s big.”

It’s taken the InDi team a couple of years to figure out the strategy for how to best use this technology in the business world, Luderer says. It considered developing it as a replacement for proteins used in scientific instruments known as mass spectrometers, and then as a replacement in the antibody kits currently prepared by medical imaging suppliers. But essentially those ideas were dismissed as too small. “It became clear that’s not where the value proposition is,” Luderer says.

InDi’s plan for creating its own PET imaging probes leans in part on the “click chemistry” work of Nobel laureate Barry Sharpless and colleagues at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, as well as Heath and his team at Caltech. The way it works, the chemists … Next Page »

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