Albachem provides custom peptides and proteins and has developed a proprietary system that allows the synthesis of peptides that are longer in length - up to about 170 residues - with a purity and speed which is generally only possible with shorter peptide fragments.
Most commercial proteins are made by recombinant methods, whereby genes coding for particular peptide sequences are inserted into a host organism, generally a bacterium, for bulk synthesis. Chemical synthesis offers much cleaner products - for example without endotoxin contamination - but has so far been confined to relatively short peptide sequences, which are of little therapeutic value.
For CSS, the agreement expands its capabilities in the production of biologic compounds, a key strategy for the firm as it grows out of its original focus on conventional chemistries. The company has already generated a portfolio of technologies in nucleotide and oligonucleotide production, and is in the process of building up its expertise in peptides, proteins, carbohydrates and oligosaccharides.
"The challenge of protein synthesis is to overcome the enormous cumulative effect of yield," according to Prof Robert Ramage, scientific director at Albachem and head of the Centre for Protein Technology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "Take for example a protein of 100 residues. Even if you get 99 per cent yield for each residue added, the overall yield of large proteins is still very small."
Albachem has developed a solid-phase synthesis technology that overcomes these limitations, achieving syntheses of larger proteins with yields that make it very quick to achieve the first 25-50mg, which is plenty of peptide for initial studies. The company has particular expertise in the synthesis of chemokines and defensins, two classes of peptides and proteins that play a role in the body's immune defences.
In addition, chemical synthesis allows the incorporation of site specific modifications giving the customer full control over the primary sequence of the protein. This includes the inclusion of unnatural amino acids at particular locations, e.g. site specific mutations for protein-ligand binding, fluorescent probes and affinity tags for assay development and diagnostics.
"This acquisition further enhances CSS's market differentiation through provision of specialist high technology services," said Dr Stephen Barr, managing director of CSS.
Albachem was founded in 1994 with the specific aim of answering the need for advanced peptide chemistry in biotechnology following elucidation of the human genome. And Ramage and the existing expert team will continue to play a pivotal role in the development of the company under CSS's control.
Ramage noted that the CSS deal will allow Albachem to expand its R&D capabilities throughout drug development, noting that the provision of cGMP synthesis will be a key feature of the company.