West Virginia Record

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Biotech start-up introduces first product

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 30, 2006

MORGANTOWN -- A company founded in 2002 by West Virginia University researchers and created to commercialize new scientific technology has launched its first product line.

The Protea Explorer System, a $30,000 device developed at Protea Biosciences in Morgantown, allows scientists to complete a week's worth of work in three hours. It is expected to be in heavy demand among the 12,000 pharmaceutical, biotech and academic laboratories around the world where protein research is conducted.

"Protein analysis is a complex process that requires several difficult steps - including sample preparation, gel electroelution, enzymatic digestion, and mass spectrometry," says Steven Turner, CEO of Protea. "This device will integrate the process for the first time, and provide results in a few hours."

In addition to the vast increase in speed, the enclosed system protects samples from contamination and allows better results from small quantities of biological materials.

"One of the great challenges in medical research is to identify proteins that predict early onset of disease," said Daniel Flynn, Ph.D., associate director for basic research at WVU's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. "Diseases that are caught early have a very high cure rate, or at least offer physicians an opportunity to control or manage the disease.

"This system invented by Protea Biosciences offers scientists an opportunity to identify rare or weakly expressed proteins that may have important diagnostic value for a variety of diseases."

Dr. Flynn and Dr. Aaron Timperman of the WVU Department of Chemistry are the company's scientific advisors.

The product will be introduced to the scientific community in early April. Turner expects many researchers will be interested in the new technology.

The Protea Explorer system allows researchers to insert blood or tissue samples into a tray. The device can be programmed to carry out a series of steps that would otherwise take place in separate stations around the lab. Once the sample has been processed, it is analyzed in a mass spectrometer.

The new devices will be manufactured at Protea's facilities near the Morgantown airport. "We have 10 employees in Morgantown, and I expect that to double in the next six months," Turner said.

"This is exactly the type of economic development that we hoped for when Protea was formed in 2002," said Robert M. D'Alessandri, M.D., vice president for health sciences at WVU. "It not only moves research forward, but creates jobs and opportunities for West Virginians who want to put their scientific skills to work in our community."

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