Seattle-based InDi, aka Integrated Diagnostics, is planning to graduate from startup mode this year and start selling its first product, a diagnostic test that spots lung cancer in a tiny sample of blood. But before it does that, it has decided to spin out some of its key intellectual property into a new startup called InDi Molecular.
The spinoff has secured a $1.5 million seed investment from InterWest Partners—one of the parent company’s venture backers from five years ago—as well as several angel investors. InDi Molecular is getting the money to further develop synthetic peptide molecules that it says should be faster and cheaper to make, and more specific to certain molecular targets, than antibodies that are the workhorses inside many of today’s diagnostic tests.
InDi Molecular is staying in its current offices in Culver City, CA, in a lab not far from Caltech campus, where co-founder Jim Heath is a researcher. The spinoff company, which has been known as a division within the parent company for the past year, will be led by InDi’s current CEO Al Luderer. It will lean on scientific contributions of Heath, and will be staffed by a team of eight existing employees. The board includes many of the same faces that are on the parent company’s board, including Heath, Luderer, and Lee Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology. Doug Fisher of InterWest Partners is taking a seat on the InDi Molecular board. Michael Phelps of UCLA, a pioneer of PET scanning, is also an advisor to InDi Molecular.
The big idea here, which I described here a year ago, is to use these peptides to replace antibodies now used in sophisticated imaging tests. Today’s PET scanners depend on using antibodies that are attached to a radioactive tracer, which enable the 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, InDi Molecular says.
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 said in a June 2012 interview. The process for making these peptides, which InDi Molecular calls “protein catalyzed capture” or PCC agents, is based partly on “click chemistry” technology developed by Nobel laureate K. Barry Sharpless and colleagues at The Scripps Research Institute, which InDi Molecular has in-licensed.
“Antibodies are the old technology that is slower, costlier, less specific and less stable than generally believed,” Luderer said in a statement. “Our data suggests that PCCs will be inexpensive, stable, quick to design and produce, and highly specific. These advantages will allow a complete reinvention of processes or products that currently rely on antibodies. This means PET probes capable of simultaneously pursuing multiple disease targets; field diagnostics capable of withstanding months of high heat; and biological tools that have highly reproducible performance across millions of assays.”
Norm Hardman, the former president and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, was recruited to run the new InDi division a little more than a year ago, but he’s no longer with the company, according to a spokesman.