Thermo Fisher Scientific has opened a new RNAi Discovery and Therapeutics Services Laboratory to help pharmaceutical companies in their quest for new drugs.
The new service laboratory builds upon the knowledge base that built in Thermo Fisher's Dharmacon RNA interference (RNAi) laboratories and combines it with the instrumentation, screening and automation expertise within the Thermo Fisher group to provide a full-spectrum service laboratory for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
The laboratory aims to help its customers from the start of the drug target discovery process through to producing siRNA (small interfering RNA) molecules for pre-clinical trials.
According to Mike Dienes, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Dharmacon Products, Drug Discovery and Development at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the primary focus of the new laboratory is to help customers to develop new therapeutic technologies and to advance the rate at which they are able to do this work.
"A lot of the early interest in the service is coming from the pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and where they want help with this process is to do whole genome wide screens that help them identify drug targets, specifically the proteins that are associated with a particular disease state," said Dienes.
Dharmacon have been producing RNAi since 1995 and were bought by Fisher Scientific in April 2004.
The merger of Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific in November 2006 to produce Thermo Fisher Scientific has given the company access to the remarkable breadth of equipment and expertise that has been used in the development of the laboratory.
This includes the Cellomics high content screening reagents and BioImage image analysis tools as well as automation tools and other instrumentation.
"We work with many high-throughput RNAi laboratories that are doing genome-wide screening with RNAi, so we know how hard it's been for them to learn how to use the RNAi technology at this high throughput scale as well as to automate the laboratory and integrate the instrumentation while developing robust assays," said Dienes.
"We've been able to integrate the RNAi screening and the automation in a way that most laboratories would take years to do on their own."
Dienes explained that using RNAi in high throughput screening experiments adds a few more steps of biological complexity into the equation compared with more traditional small molecules screening experiments.
This extra complexity occurs because of the need to use transfection techniques to open up short lived pores in the cell membranes to allow RNAi molecules into the cell before giving them time to switch off the genes and then running assays.
"The siRNA libraries can contain over 21,000 individual molecules when you conduct a genome-wide screen and these are often done in duplicate or triplicate and under different conditions - this means you could be conducting well over 100,000 cell culture experiments in one screen," said Dienes.
The enormous size of such experiments means that you have to understand the biology that is going on in the experiments.
"It's not just about producing results, it's about producing results that are meaningful," said Dienes.
Another service the laboratory is offering is assistance in the discovery of biomarkers.
"We do this by micro RNA (miRNA) profiling experiments that quantify the changes in miRNA levels in diseased versus normal cells or treated versus untreated cells," said Dienes.
"The better we can identify these biomarkers the more targeted and effective therapeutics can become."
He also mentioned that pharmaceutical companies aren't just using this technology to look for new drug targets and drug candidates, but also to look for ways to increase the efficacy of current drugs.
One of Thermo Fisher Scientific's collaborators, Professor Michael White of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, recently published results in the journal Nature using the Dharmacon siRNA library to identify and block 87 genes that increased the efficacy of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel 10,000 times.
This technique could help pharmaceutical companies reduce toxic side effects and increase the efficacy of drugs that are in danger of failing clinical trials.
"The prospects for RNAi therapeutics are truly exciting - if they turn out to be as successful as we hope it promises to be a whole new class of drug compound and a way to shorten the long and unpredictable drug discovery and development process," said Dienes.
"In addition, we may also be able to treat conditions that we might not have been able to treat with traditional small molecule drugs."