Caprion’s Proteomic Biomarkers — Diverse Clientele Leads to In-House Pipeline

Montreal-based Caprion has established itself as a leader in the proteomic biomarker discovery field, using its proteomics discovery platform CellCarta® to develop pharmacodynamic biomarkers, disease markers and predictive biomarkers.

In one decade (since the company’s inception in 2002), Caprion has serviced over 20 major pharmaceutical clients, and has received multiple biodefense contracts.

In 2009, the company has entered the in-vitro diagnostics space, developing an in-house pipeline in the areas of infectious disease, oncology, diabetes. Caprion has secured over $25MM in non-dilutive funding, and is moving to reach diagnostic candidate validation through partnerships with peers, academia, and other research/awareness houses.

Personalized medicine has been one of the lone bright spots across the entire healthcare space during and following the recession. Innovation in the space is rapidly moving and emerging from the bench-top level, and as such investor activity has grown. Further, medicine is experiencing a paradigm shift toward preventative care as well as away from the concept of “normative'” medicine, with proteomic biomarkers at the forefront.

Regulatory, legislative and financial entities now must provide the infrastructure to foster this rapidly advancing sector. Much continues to be debated: from the ethical dilemmas surrounding the state of patent rights to ‘natural processes’, to the proper method of reaching investor liquidity, the conversation continues to be centered on making these new innovations a reality — and reaching a patient population in need.

OneMedRadio spoke with Caprion President and CEO Martin Leblanc about these industry trends, and how Caprion has positioned itself as a leader in the space.

Click to listen to the audio, and view the transcript below.

Matthew Margolis:     OneMedRadio welcomes Martin Leblanc, president and CEO of Caprion, which provides proteomics biomarker and target identification services. Caprion has performed 50 large-scale biomarker discovery and validation projects for over 20 major pharmaceutical industry clients internationally. The company offers biomarker services, in vitro diagnostics, and drug targets across various indications. So Martin, thank you for joining us today.

Martin Leblanc:     Thanks for having me.

MM:     Let’s start with a snapshot of the company.

ML:     Caprion’s mission is really to work in collaboration with major pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, and leading government agencies to help advance the field of personalized medicine by helping in the discovery, the verification, and validation of novel biomarkers, protein-based biomarkers and diagnostic tools that will enable more precise prediction of who will respond or won’t respond to a particular therapy, or even diagnosing diseases that lack proper diagnosis today.

We do so by leveraging two main technology platforms. One is our leading proteomics technology, what we call CellCarta, that is able to profile thousands of proteins in blood or tissues from humans to find what are the proteins that are differentially expressed or uniquely expressed in a certain disease versus other states, or in a responder population versus nonresponder populations to particular drug treatments. The technology we use in partnerships with pharmaceutical companies that actually are conducting clinical trials on humans.

Another technology that we leverage, we call ImmuneCarta. That leverages a flow cytometry based platform to also detect protein antigens in a single cell to be able to track immune-related phenomenon and monitor the immune response of patients to certain biological therapies or vaccine therapies.

Those two technology platforms are commonly used with pharmaceutical companies, so our revenue model and our platform aims at providing services, making these two technologies available to pharmaceutical companies to pay us to perform certain biomarker discovery or immune monitoring project as part of their clinical development effort. So we are what I would call a very niche contract research organization with proprietary technologies that are increasingly in high demand for development of novel pharmaceutical compounds. We’ve been around for over 12 years serving pharmaceutical companies and have been profitable for the last 5 to 6 years and achieving pretty significant revenue growth from these partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. We’ve been growing at about 30% to 35% a year annually in terms of revenues for the last four to five years.

MM:     Talk a little bit about your in vitro diagnostics platform.

ML:     We at first decided that we were going to solely make the platform available to partners and we were going to be a service provider. But along the way we discovered that we could also perhaps develop a second stream to our business model, which was to try and invest in our own development of in vitro diagnostics. We tried to do it in a way that was a little more compatible with the fact that we were a service provider, and had a motive to be profitable for our investors. So we decided to link up with major academic and clinical research institutes to come up with some projects that we’ve been able to fund by major government contracts and major industry consortia that have allowed us to now develop a pipeline of novel diagnostic candidates for tuberculosis, hepatitis C, other infectious diseases, lung cancer and diabetes.

So we have a pretty interesting and exciting pipeline of novel and in vitro diagnostic products that we are developing. They’re currently at the validation stage. We are maybe about 12 to 18 months from initiating commercialization on some of these and a little further out maybe 24 to 36 months from commercialization on a few other earlier stage projects that we have. But those have progressed very well over the last four years and we’re quite bullish about expanding Caprion’s reach into the market by being more than a service provider for R&D efforts of pharma but eventually becoming a clinical diagnostic company leveraging the power of mass spectrometry and our proteomics platform to provide novel diagnostics for patients.

MM:     What is the market opportunity here? It’s been said that infectious disease has been growing at a rapid rate far beyond any other markets. What’s inspired you to enter these fields, and do you view these fields to be crowded?

ML:     What inspired us to get into these fields was at first the opportunity. I think there was an era in the mid-2000 period where biodefense funding was easier to come by for companies like ours and became an attractive place for us to try and tap into some interesting, non-dilutive funding. We were fortunate enough to win a contract from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease that has enabled us to develop diagnostics for tuberculosis for brucellosis and for influenza H5N1, all of which have interesting biodefense dimensions to them but represents very high unmet need for better clinical diagnosis.

Now we’ve that there’s definitely a need and of course an increasing incidence of these infectious diseases in the world and that comes from globalization and also the fact that as people travel throughout the world, more populations become exposed to transmission of these infectious diseases, whereas they were once perhaps more limited to certain geographic areas. We also see the advent of multistrain resistant forms of infection that are causing problems, in that they used to be treatable, but now they actually get more resistant to antibiotic therapy. So that’s also causing a need for better diagnosis, for better treatments for these diseases as well.

So we don’t see the space as being too crowded because there are many, many areas of unmet need. We believe that our platform and proteomics addresses novel approaches for detecting proteins that are related to the infection whether at the pathogen level, but more importantly sometimes as a response of how the host reacts to the infection. We believe [this] Caprion and other technologies like ours in our novel ways of detecting and diagnosing these diseases. So I think right now there’s probably not enough research going on in these areas, but certainly with the advent of the Gates Foundation and other types of funding we feel like there’ll be more and more opportunities for bringing these novel diagnostics to market.

MM:     I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about industry trends. Firstly, how did the rulings in Prometheus versus Mayo affect your company growth strategy?

ML:     So far, we were fortunate enough to have discovered our markers in the last three to four years, and the patents that we have filed on our inventions have been in the last two years and have taken into account some of the issues and potential obstacles that the Prometheus case has surfaced up. So we were able to really benefit from being what I would call sort of a post Prometheus generation set of patents where we are able to write our claims in a way that are not necessarily as exposed to the issues that are involved in the Prometheus case. I think some people who have longer-standing patent applications that predated this juris prudence and these litigations have perhaps a harder time struggling with how this will actually unfold. As for us, we believe that we’ve successfully addressed the issues in the way we wrote our claims.

MM:     And so in your opinion, do you foresee a forthcoming chilling effect?

ML:     It’s an issue. It’s out there. I think every field that deals with life sciences always has these types of, what I would call, issues of concerns to address when from an investor point of view. I would say that in diagnostics there is a prevailing sense that equilibrium and common sense will prevail in these types of litigations, and that true innovations in the diagnostic field will be recognized as being novel and proprietary, and that intellectual property protection will be granted to those truly innovative solutions. So I don’t see that as being necessarily a chilling effect. But it is certainly one area that when you’re dealing with investors, you have to absolutely have addressed and have a good strategy and a good set of defensible reasons why you believe that your product will have an intellectual property position if you’re going to convince investors to make the leap.

MM:     Do you think we’re moving away from the concept of normative medicine? What ethical implications might arise from such a paradigm shift?

ML:     I think that frankly we’re moving towards an area of more stratified and personalized medicine and I think that it’s more of a good evolution that conjures up mainly I would say positive developments for the allocation of resources to patients. You know, making sure that patients get treatments that are adapted to the diseases they have and that we don’t take a one-size-fits-all model to drug prescriptions, which we know today results in about a 40% or less effectiveness rate of drugs that are prescribed. We want to buy personalized medicine and buy finding diagnostics that can enrich for those responder populations get to more stratified drugs that actually have an impact on 80%, 90%, or 100% of the populations that are taking those drugs. That to me is far more in the greater interest of delivering cost efficient and effective healthcare than steering away from these types of stratification strategies.

Now one must also always worry about and be mindful of potential ethical considerations of making sure that this information is used solely for the purposes of providing better treatments, and not to be used or made accessible for other purposes to the detriment of those patients. But I think that we are as an industry making great strides and making sure that we erect the right regulations.

MM:     That was a company snapshot with Caprion President and CEO Martin Leblanc. Caprion provides proteomics biomarker and target identification services as well as developing in vitro diagnostics pipeline across various indications. This is Matthew Margolis signing off.

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