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High-throughput detection for discovery
December 2014
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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SUNNYVALE, Calif.—The end of October saw the announcement that the custom technologies arm of Molecular Devices, a leader in bioanalytical systems for drug discovery, life-sciences research and bioassay development, has partnered with the Discovery Technologies team at Roche’s Basel, Switzerland-based Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) division to develop a high-throughput detection system for drug discovery screens employing Roche’s proprietary ruthenium-based nanosecond time-resolved fluorescence (Nano-TRF) assays.
 
According to the companies, the pRED screening teams in Basel and Shanghai, China, are now installing the custom-developed Nano-TRF cartridge in their existing Molecular Devices SpectraMax Paradigm multimode microplate readers and will receive on-demand delivery of new cartridges and continuing global technical support.
 
“Nano-TRF is a robust, ruthenium-based time-resolved assay used in high-throughput screening for drug discovery,” according to Roche, and ruthenium-based dyes combine the advantages of time-resolved detection based on lanthanide series elements (such as europium and terbium) and nanosecond fluorophores.
 
Reportedly, the high quantum efficiency ruthenium dyes have bright far-red signals with low background due to time-resolved detection, do not require strong ultraviolet excitation but rather can be excited with visible light, are chemically robust and have proven and stable detection in many biological matrices. However, while the theory had been sound for a while, the instrumentation for proper and scalable implementation of ruthenium Nano-TRF had not been developed until now, the companies note.
 
“We make the instruments that only existed as ideal specs in a team meeting or a protocol draft,” says Shawn Laymon, vice president of Molecular Devices’ Global Services and Custom Solutions division. “We look forward to a continued relationship with Roche and to building new relationships with customers looking for a partner to help them create custom detection and analysis systems that meet their specific workflow needs.”
 
Molecular Devices’ SpectraMax Paradigm Multi-Mode Detection Platform employs a cartridge-based system that expands the capability of the plate reader beyond traditional assays to include applications such as western blotting and imaging cytometry. Users can choose from more than 20 existing cartridges or engage Molecular Devices Custom Technologies to create a cartridge that fits their needs. The Paradigm system can perform absorbance, fluorescence, time-resolved fluorescence (including HTRF), fluorescence polarization, AlphaScreen, AlphaLISA and luminescence measurements.
 
Since taking the helm of pRED back in April 2013, Dr. John C. Reed has had a lot to contend with, as the research group was in trouble after some high-profile program failures. Although no one has said it explicitly, pushing the envelope with a new technology like this could be part of getting the Roche R&D operation back on track and keeping it there.
 
Certainly, Roche seems to be keen on backing pRED despite its rocky road in recent years, with word in October that the company is building a new home for Reed and the rest of the pRED research group in Basel, having pledged $1.8 billion in spending to build a new research center in Switzerland consisting of four new office and lab buildings that will accommodate 1,900 R&D employees.
 
In other 2014 news of pRED, the R&D group struck its first epigenetics deal in the spring, paying $21 million in upfront and near-terms payouts to gain the rights to Barcelona-based Oryzon’s orphan compound ORY-1001, being studied for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.
 
As with so many other early-stage drug research deals, some $500 million in potential milestone payments are also in play, along with royalties if the drug pans out and makes it to market.
 
Code: E121407

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