Pfizer and Roche back protein shape change monitoring startup

Recognition of the role of protein structure changes in signaling has driven a proliferation of techniques to detect the shifts. Crystallography, dual polarization interferometry and a host of other methods have been tried, but all have flaws. Now, Pfizer ($PFE) and Roche ($RHHBY) think they have found a better way.

The drugmakers' venture units have invested in Biodesy, the California-based startup behind the method. Pfizer and Roche were joined by 5AM Ventures in a $15 million Series A financing round that will give Biodesy the cash to further develop and commercialize its second-harmonic generation (SHG) technology. Biodesy has already signed up one pharmaceutical partner, and its new CEO--former GE healthcare entrepreneur in residence Greg Yap--is already looking to ink more revenue-generating deals.

Yap's optimism is underpinned by a belief that SHG offers something new, and something drug research needs. "Routine and direct measurement of changes in protein structure in real time has never been practical before. We believe our technology will provide unique value in multiple applications, including drug development, structural biology, and eventually personalized medicine," Yap said. SHG characterizes structural changes with sub-angstrom resolution by putting a marker on a protein and recording when it moves.

The moves correspond to a change in protein structure, which Biodesy can track in real time. Joshua Salafsky, chief scientific officer at Biodesy, developed the approach for more than a decade in academia before founding the company to commercialize the technology. The challenge now is to bridge the gap between promising scientific approach and practical drug development tool. 

- here's the press release
- read San Francisco Business Times' take

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