October 1, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 17)

Carol Potera

Indigo Biosciences Looks to Help Pharma Firms Increase Product Pipelines and Diminish Risk

Nuclear receptors are popular targets for drug companies searching for new therapeutics for cancer and cardiovascular, metabolic, inflammatory, and other diseases. Indigo Biosciences in State College, PA, designs and sells nuclear receptor assay kits to speed the discovery of new drugs.

While at Penn State University, Jack Vanden Heuvel, Ph.D., and Blake Peterson, Ph.D., developed the technology platform that screens for nuclear receptor activity. Soon after, pharmaceutical companies began asking them to test compounds in their academic laboratories. “That’s when we realized a business could be built around our technology, and we launched Indigo Biosciences as a service provider in 2005,” says Dr. Vanden Heuvel, CSO.

Nuclear receptors are transcription factors that bind specifically to small molecules, hormones, drugs, and other chemicals to regulate specific genes and control cellular metabolism, homeostasis, and development.

Agents that interact with nuclear receptors are the focus of research programs at numerous pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Indigo’s goal is to identify novel compounds with on-target or potentially dangerous off-target bioactivities. “There are many areas where we can help pharmaceutical companies build their pipeline and eliminate risk,” adds Dr. Vanden Heuvel.

All the nuclear receptor assay kits offered by Indigo Biosciences contain live reporter cells that are protected during shipping with a cryopreservation process called CryoMite™. The cryopreservation method keeps 95% of cells alive during freezing and thawing.

“People have frozen mammalian cells for a long time, but they have a high mortality rate when warmed up,” explains Bruce Sherf, CTO. The CryoMite technology transformed Indigo from being a service provider into a product provider of assay kits.

“The ability to ship cells overnight and maintain a high cell viability is unique among our competitors,” adds Sherf. Most other companies in the nuclear receptor field sell naked DNA vectors that encode various genetic elements. Customers must generate their own reporter cells and develop and optimize assays in their laboratories.

In contrast, “we provide a complete, optimized assay system with reporter cells, positive controls, and reagents. It’s a lab-in-a-box, and customers only need to supply instrumentation.” Researchers obtain data within 24 hours by following four easy steps: thaw, feed, dose, and read.

Flexible manufacturing capacity allows Indigo Biosciences to offer high-throughput screening customers rapid production of custom-scale bulk reagents.

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