27 October 2020

Decoding the Proteome: The Next Frontier in Biology.

By George Coe By George Coe

For decades, we’ve been talking about how NGS will change the world.

It’s unlocked our ability to execute outstanding drug discovery, improved our knowledge of cancer (and other diseases) and provided earlier diagnosis. It’s even helped us understand what it is to be human.

So much has been achieved in NGS and we have the likes of Solexa, 454, Ion Torrent and various other companies to thank for thatwhich my previous article talks about.

But what if NGS was only the start?

A new method has emerged with the potential to take everything that NGS has done for us one step further. The excitement now, is not on the genome, but the proteome.

Michael Mckenna, President at Quantum-Si.

Quantum-Si’s President, Michael Mckenna, explained to me why understating a person’s proteins is as valuable as understanding their genetics.

He said if you take two identical twins at birth and spend 30 years feeding one nothing but potato chips, restricting them to no sporting activity, and then give the other a balanced diet and exercise, their genome would tell us that they look exactly the same.

But we know that they wouldn’t, on both the inside and out.

This is where proteins come into play. Its proteins that really tell us the information of a person’s health. That’s why understanding proteins could be so revolutionary, providing more accurate and valuable insight into our health.

Innovation in this area has been slow and we are still using old technologies. We’re far away from the huge readouts of data that’s being achieved in NGS.

However, the world of life science is catching up and a new industry is surfacing: Next Generation Protein Sequencing.

Pushing proteomics to a new level read outs and speed promises to take what we know from NGS a step further.

We will be able to understand rare diseases much better, improving treatment.

Alzheimer’s, which is believed to be caused by the build up of a particular type of protein, could finally be fully understood. Giving life to new medicines and potential cures.

Certain proteins show differential expression between different forms of cancer or individual tumours (within the same form of cancer), so improving our understanding of how this happens could lead to a form of precision medicine for individual cancer patients.

What we are seeing now is very similar to what we saw in the early 2000s with NGS. Excitement, attention, hype, whatever you want to call it, around a few very promising companies and new technologies.

Like in the early 2000s, Jonathan Rothberg is involved. Quantum-Si, the daughter company of Rothberg’s 4Catalyzer and headed up by Michael Mckenna, are one of the most exciting companies in this space right now.

Their platform is powered by the world's first massively parallel single-photon counting semiconductor chip. This chip allows a user to read the amino acid sequence at an extremely low cost.

It’s exciting times for Next Generation Protein Sequencing. Rothberg is recently quoted in saying "we are just getting started", so you know 2021 is going to be a huge year for Quantum-Si.

They’re not alone though. Seattle start-up, Nautilus, are also ones to watch. With over $100m in funding, the likes of Jeff Bezos are backing them to be big in Protein Sequencing.

As well as what looks like an extremely impressive technology, Nautilus have also managed to put together a top team of scientific advisors and business leaders. This includes their recently appointed Chief Business Officer, Nick Nelson. This strong foundation means that Nautilus have a very exciting future.

Seer are another company leading the charge in proteomics. They’ve raised over $100m for the launch of their own product to decode the proteome.

Seer’s complete solution, from consumables to supporting software, has put them in a strong position to take control of the proteomic space. Not unlike Quantum-Si and Nautilus, Seer boasts a star-studded board of scientific leaders such as CEO Omid Farokhzad and former Illumina executive Omead Ostadan.

I was a little too young to oversee the start of the NGS industry, with Solexa, 454 and Ion Torrent pushing genomics into what we know it as today. That’s why I’m so excited to be able to follow the Next Generation Protein Sequencing story. Seer, Quantum-Si and Nautilus have the potential to create a new realm of drug discovery, diagnosis and understanding of the makings of life. 2021 is going to be a year to stand up and take notice of proteomics.

If you'd like to learn more about these companies or share your thoughts on the proteomics space, please email me at George.Coe@lifesci-cm.com.

You can learn more about my recruitment services and see more of my content on my consultant page.


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George Coe

George Coe works across genomics and cellular biology, partnering with companies and candidates who are at the very forefront of research today. He is fascinated by the way in which genomics is going to affect our everyday lives and the growing regulations surrounding the technology.


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