For those of you who have followed my work over the years, I’m happy to report that I start with Olink Proteomics as their new Director of Field Marketing for the Americas today (February 2021). It may come as a surprise to many of you steeped in genomics that I’d go to a company that analyzes proteins, but may not be for others familiar with many of the problems challenges facing personalized medicine.
Some Olink company history
The company Olink began in 2004 in Sweden out of technology from Uppsala University; a spin-out company Halo Genomics (and an assay that used padlock probes for targeted enrichment) was acquired by Agilent a while ago. Reorganized in 2016, it was taken over by private equity in 2019.
In 2013, Olink launched its first assays at 92-plex, which at that time they called ProSeek. Using a technology called Proximity Extension Assay (PEA, explained later) the ability to use only 1 microliter (that is one thousandth of a milliliter) of sample (for example serum), accurate results could be obtained down in the picogram per mL levels. Disease-specific panels for cardiovascular disease, inflammation, oncology and diabetes were subsequently developed and launched.
Currently named Olink Target 96 and Olink Target 48, fourteen pre-configured panels are available for a wide range of disease states and research areas. There are some 1,162 human protein biomarker assays that have been developed in total (here’s a link to the complete list).
For those working with a mouse model, an Olink Target 96 Mouse Exploratory panel is available (here’s a link to the list of mouse protein targets).
In the summer of 2020, Olink launched the Olink Explore platform, expanding the number of proteins measured in only 3 uL of sample to 1536 protein targets.
The Proximity Extension Assay (PEA) Technology
Typical immunoassays require a much higher amount of sample; and measure a much lower number of distinct analytes. For example, MesoScale Diagnostics has a chemiluminescent assay requiring 25 uL of sample, to measure four to ten analytes. Luminex, another well-established protein analysis platform, has multiplex on the order of 65 analytes, also with a typical sample input of 25 uL.
What is complicated about these platforms however is the specificity of the particular antibody used, and the amount of cross-reactivity (and subsequent loss of specificity and sensitivity) once additional antibodies are multiplexed in the same assay. A superior-performing antibody that works well as a single-plex may not perform as well with 30 additional antibodies in the mix.
You can find highly multiplexed fixed panels from different vendors; however there is a lot of work to get a fixed panel where all the antibodies are working well as a set. To come up with a custom collection of markers often takes an inordinate amount of effort and time to optimize all the individual antibodies as well as other parameters within the assay.
Olink uses two different antibodies for a given target; each antibody has a synthetic DNA oligonucleotide label unique to it. Oligos that are close together will hybridize by design, and a DNA polymerase will extend the complementary sequences. The newly created barcode is amplified – and detected – by real-time PCR.
In the case of the new Olink Explore 1536, the readout is done by NGS instead of real-time PCR. For a visual explanation of the assay, a 3 minute video is available online.
The ability to use such a small sample input (1 uL for the Target 48 or Target 96, 3 uL for the Explore 1536) is due to the combination of two different antibodies, in conjunction with the requirement of proximity extension. As you can imagine, having such a low sample input requirement makes the Olink platform very attractive for a wide variety of biomarker discovery and companion diagnostic development applications.
A Field Marketing Role
In 2012 to 2014 while at Life Technologies / Thermo Fisher Scientific I was a regional marketing manager for the Ion Torrent group, part of the Genetic Systems Division commercial team. One of the great things about that role was to not only make relevant a global marketing effort, but also feed back to R&D and other stakeholders key market trends as well as highlight customer success.
At Olink Proteomics I’m expected to fulfill a similar role, running marketing campaigns (including digital marketing in various forms, content marketing and social media), working with the field sales team, assist putting different kinds of sales collateral and sales tools together, collaborating with global marketing in go-to-market programs, and of course representing the company at tradeshows. Feeding the North American market intelligence back to R&D and development teams is also an important function.
A Competitive Marketplace
In the high multiplex protein detection marketplace there is one existing competitor, SomaLogic in Colorado, that uses short nucleic acids that have been enriched for their binding affinity to protein. Originally their process was called Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment (SELEX), but missed about 70% of potential protein targets. Their revised version is called Slow Off-rate Modified Aptamers (SOMAmers), which by their name clearly states it is binding kinetics that is an important feature (and limitation) of their system.
Another company called Seer has made a splash, raising almost $170 Million in four rounds of fundraising and going public in December of 2020. They have a system called Proteograph with nanoparticle sample enrichment, mass-spectrometry readout (OEM deals with Thermo Fisher and Bruker Daltonics) and software. Current plans include beta-testing though the end of 2021 with a commercial launch sometime in 2022. One question is the number of analytes their platform can detect, as their nanoparticle affinities are not antibody-based; they only look for differences between samples in their ability to form nanoparticle ‘protein corona’ formation. Nonetheless given the considerable financial interest, it is worth keeping an eye on.
A Final Note
I want to personally thank all those who have helped over the past few months (and you know who you are). Your friendship, support, and advice have been invaluable in a difficult time.
You may be aware that the book COVID-19: From Chaos To Cure is now in paperback via Amazon and in hardback via Barnes and Noble, and if you do read it a review would be most appreciated! If you want a signed copy, please feel free to reach out and I can arrange it.