Firms want to license reactome array
Madrid – Responding to the current debate surrounding the reactome array investigation, Manuel Ferrer from the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry in Madrid told EuroBiotechNews his team would “clarify all the scientific issues concerning the biochip with a new paper.“ But economic matters could soon overtake scientific redemption. Several large companies are interested in the revolutionary biochip, Ferrer said, and will soon begin with testing. This even though the authors withdrew the original publication in August due to reputed errors in the general reaction scheme of the chip.
In October 2009, Ferrer presented a novel technique he and co-authors claimed would herald “a new age of discovery“ in medicine and chemistry (Science, 326 (5950), 252-257). Their reactome array is a tiny glass slide carrying 1,676 individual enzyme substrates that represent the metabolic pathways of all forms of life.
When a specific enzyme in a cell or bacterial lysate reacts with its cognate substrate on the array surface, a substrate-linked, fluorescence-quenched Cy3 dye begins to glow. Subsequent isolation of the appropriate enzyme is possible with the help of tiny gold beads that carry multiple copies of the substrate on its surface. However, after publication, several organic chemists raised questions about the feasibility of the claim. The doubts led to an editorial expression of concern. The rumours didn’t abate, and in August of 2010, ethical committees at three of the involved research centres finally urged the authors to retract the paper. They eventually complied. But marine microbiologists who have worked with the chip to verify computational predictions of gene functions generated by DNA sequencing are enthusiastic about the array. They said it allowed them to confirm more than 300 putative gene functions. “The patent application has been corrected and there is huge interest from the industry,” adds Sabina Heim from the patent agency Ascenion.
For Ferrer the retraction is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the next round. He says he will follow a three-pronged approach to the issue. First, several international pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies will be taking a serious look at the device, he told EuroBiotechNews. The patent application is pending, and should be published in September. Second, Ferrer says he is working on a new paper which will “focus on chemistry“, adding that “this time there will be a proper chemical analysis, just to avoid any misunderstandings.“ The third pathway Ferrer is following to reestablish faith in the reactome array is collaboration with other scientific groups.