Polymerat making a splash in the US

By Pete Young
Monday, 02 September, 2002

An Australian company that designs super-efficient surfaces for biochip and microplate assay systems used in high throughput proteomics screening has touched off an avalanche of US interest.

Materials science company Polymerat took the wraps off its technology on a recent six-week US tour whose stops included 15 of "the largest technology platform companies in genomics, proteomics and bio-instrumentation," according to Dr Jason Armstrong, investment manager with Polymerat's lead investor, CM Capital Investments.

Fourteen of the 15 expressed interest and Polymerat currently is in late-stage negotiations with four of them, said company CEO Dr Nobuyoshi (Joe) Maeji.

Maeji is one of three research managers from Melbourne's Chiron Technologies (now Mimotopes) who formed the nucleus of Polymerat two years ago.

Its technology, for which it holds 10 patents, can tailor microplate and chip surfaces to specific proteins in ways which simplify the assay process and optimise the quality of test data.

It has applications in the billion dollar microplate market for high throughput screening and in the developing protein biochip market which is tipped to reach $US700 million by 2006, Armstrong said.

"The value of today's biochips are very limited if they don't capture and display proteins properly," says Maeji.

"Proteins are very complex molecules with a particular structure and in order to screen them or test a functional state requires more than just dropping them on a regular glass or plastic surface.

"Polymerat can control in an intelligent fashion how to present a protein so the chip becomes a useful entity."

Part of the US interest in the company lies with Polymerat's methodology for developing new surfaces which in many ways mimics the process used by drug discovery companies to uncover drug candidates.

It starts with a library of surfaces from which fresh variants are created through combinatorial chemistry. Candidates are screened and rated in terms of the strength of their reactions with target proteins. An iterative process driven by informatics then produces an optimised result from thousands of potential surfaces in a very competitive time frame, according to Maeji.

"When we tell potential partners we can do this in a few weeks, they are amazed," he says.

Polymerat's 20-member staff is top-heavy with expertise in combinatorial synthesis, materials engineering and materials and chemical informatics.

Though its current target market is protein biochip and microplate consumables, longer term plans involve the high-throughput small molecule synthesis market.

Maeji is bullish on the company's prospects.

"There is always competing technology but our approach of generating and screening thousands of surfaces is one which we are not aware that anyone else is taking."

Meanwhile, Polymerat it is hoping to finalise negotiations with US partners in the next three to four months. Some deals could involve a complete outsourcing of product development to Polymerat and others may be co-development agreements, Armstrong said.

It also hopes to close its multi-million dollar Series A funding round by the end of this year and the company is seeking participation by Australian investors before a US round.

Compared with drug discovery companies whose revenue outlooks are seven years in the future, Polymerat's defined product (assay and assay technologies) and relatively near-term revenues may tempt investors.

Polymerat recently appointed US biotech identity Robert Fildes (ex-CEO of Biogen) as chairman and a hunt is now underway for a US-based CEO.

Currently based in Brisbane, Polymerat plans to shift its management and marketing operations to the US once the partnership agreements and Series A funding are locked in. However, it will continue to drive its R&D efforts from Australia.

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