Making an overseas connection
AUSTIN, Texas—Through the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and the UT Gyeonggi Innovation Program, Bucheon, South Korea-based industrial automation company Jungwoo F&B has been introduced to Austin-based biotech Bioo Scientific, and now the two companies will team up to improve physicians' ability to make diagnosis and treatment decisions for cancer patients by allowing more sensitive analysis of microRNAs and peptides in tumor samples.
The UT Gyeonggi Innovation Program, sponsored by Kim Moon-Soo, governor of the Gyeonggi Province in Korea, is a three-year program to promote entrepreneurship, identify promising technology start-up companies and introduce those companies to the U.S. market. The UT Gyeonggi Innovation Program is being operated through the Global Commercialization Group unit of the IC² Institute, which is part of UT Austin. The overarching goal of the program is to help establish foreign collaborations in science and biotechnology that create economic development opportunities for both Korean and U.S. companies.
What got Jungwoo F&B this chance to connect with Bioo Scientific is its development of the Image Oriented Navigation Laser Microdissection Device (ION LMD), which is a novel instrument for enhanced imaging and precise dissection of cells. Reportedly, molecular pathologists can take advantage of this combination of technology to provide superior laser dissection results.
"Jungwoo F&B was selected in an innovation competition—our market research indicated that it was a novel approach to LMD and could be an enabling technology for molecular pathology," says Donna Kidwell, the global program manager for the IC² Institute. "Our goal is to help such technologies commercialize successfully, and create strong international partnerships along the way."
Specifically, Bioo Scientific will work in conjunction with Jungwoo F&B to develop kits for the ION LMD system, which is something Bioo Scientific has in abundance, including a line of NEXTflex Sequencing Kits offering increased sensitivity, flexibility and speed for next-generation sequencing library preparation and the MaxDiscovery kits for protein extraction and quantitation. In addition, Bioo Scientific will use its expertise in reagent development and manufacturing to introduce kits for global microRNA profiling and for protein extraction for mass spectroscopy-based peptide analysis of tumor samples. Dr. Marianna Goldrick, senior scientist, R&D at Bioo Scientific, says the ION LMD provides significant technical advantages that will allow physicians and clinical researchers to bring the power of microdissection into play for routine use in improving diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.
Goldrick notes that some 400 companies entered the competition for this year's UT Gyeonggi Innovation Program, with 20 of them having been picked early this year, Jungwoo among them. Apparently, UT Austin sees particular promise with the ION LMD technology.
"The idea of the innovation program is to help foment these kinds of partnerships, but the university tends to step back pretty quickly," notes Dr. Kevin P. Rosenblatt, director of the Center for Clinical Proteomics at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine in UT's Health Science Center at Houston, who has interacted with Jungwoo for more than five years as part of his work. "It's not that they forget about the companies or lose interest, but the university generally needs to shift its focus to the next round. But they've stayed involved with this because they clearly see great synergy here."
"What Bioo Scientific does is to act as a sort of middle player," explains Goldrick. "On one end, you have clinical guys like Kevin, and on the other end you have sequencing and bioinformatics. We get our hands dirty extracting the nucleic acids so they can go on to the next-generation technologies or other analytics."
Once Rosenblatt realized Goldrick and the rest of the Bioo team had an interest in technology like the ION LMD, he was happy to help usher along the relationship between Bioo and Jungwoo "because they have the kits and content to go with the instruments and really push the interest in it and acceptance of it."
The timing for this pairing is particularly good because there is so much interest right now in molecular-based biomarkers, Goldrick says. Rosenblatt agrees, and adds that the continuing evolution of next-generation sequencing technology also helps. "As it gets more sensitive," he notes, "it's great to have laser capture for the specificity that is especially important for quantitative biomarkers."
In addition to the growing interest in biomarkers, the complexity of cancer diagnosis and treatment also contributes to Goldrick's interest in working with the ION LMD technology.
"It's not just what cancer you have but what kind of treatment you need," she notes. "You don't want the unnecessary side effects and wasted time that go with getting a therapy that doesn't help you. We're trying to eliminate that trial-and-error phase."
The ION LMD technology reflects the fact that laser capture dissection technology in general has matured from solely research value to being a legitimate diagnostic and clinical tool, says Rosenblatt, who in addition to his other work is also an associate professor of molecular medicine. "That was always the original vision for the technology," he notes, "but it's taken about 10 years to get to that point."