Metabolomics is the study and measurement of the full range of small molecules - or metabolites - present in an organism, known as the metabolome. The technique is based on Mass Spectrometry (MS) combined with chromatography techniques and statistical methods. According to players in the field, the metabolomics approach can be applied to all the stages of the drug discovery and development, from identification of biomarkers for safety or toxicity, through to drug efficacy and mechanism of action studies. "The technology has been around for some years but it is becoming more and more popular," Reini Hurme, Zora's CEO, told Outsourcing-Pharma.com. "Now with better and more accurate technologies, metabolomics is becoming a more useful tool for pharma companies." Hurme said there are currently a handful of companies who provide this technology as a service in Europe: one in Austria, one in the UK and another in Germany, but Zora is the first one in the Nordic region. According to British firm Selcia, one of Zora's competitors in the metabolomics arena, the main strength of the technology is its capacity to characterise phenotypes. Players in this field believe metabolomics is a powerful part of systems biology, providing data that are quantitative and more relevant Indeed, one the challenges of systems biology is to integrate data from proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics to get a more holistic view of organisms, explained Hurme. "Metabolites are the end products, so you cannot go further than that in terms of data," he said. Hurme added that since research published last year found the approach could make a link between phenotype and metabolic profile in patients taking statin drugs, many companies developing lipid lowering products have shown an interest in the technology. "Pharma companies who are interested in the technology tend to take the outsourcing route as it makes more sense in terms of costs," said Hurme. In addition, he said, the complexity of the whole approach and the resources and capabilities needed to maintain it are also a deterrent for drug developers who prefer relying on a provider with more expertise and experience. Zora is officially just two months old so has not yet secured any contracts with pharma firms but Hurme revealed that his company is currently in discussions with a large US firm and a European one. Zora could have backed a winner by focusing on this promising area. According to recent data from market research firm Business Insights, the metabolomics market, despite being in its infancy, is set to boom in the next four years and expected to reach $1bn (€0.7bn) in 2011. The market is estimated to generate $200m this year and grow at an annual rate of 40 per cent over the next few years. Furthermore, Zora's business model is two-fold as the company said it will also develop biomarkers. "Zora will aggressively expand its biomarker portfolio for licensing the discoveries to laboratory assay providers," the company said. Zora is funded by VTT, Slovenian private investor Gomar D.D., and Seedcap II Ky.
Finnish CRO Technical Research Center (VTT) has spun-off Zora Biosciences, which becomes the only company in the Nordic region to provide metabolomics services to pharma companies - a market with high potential.