Genomics is often touted for its potential to improve healthcare, but there’s another emerging field that’s more likely to have a positive impact on patients’ lives: proteomics. It’s based on measuring the proteins in someone’s body at a given time — known to scientists as the “proteome” — and gives information about what’s affecting that person’s health in real time, as opposed to genes, which stay the same throughout a person’s life.
Roy Smythe, CEO of SomaLogic, shared insights on the proteomics field during the recent Techonomy 2019 retreat in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Proteins, he said, provide context about what’s going on in the body. “During the course of your life, your proteome turns over 40,000 times,” he said. “It can tell you things about your current health state and your future health state based on context.
But understanding what proteins mean in the context of a person’s health has taken decades of hard work. SomaLogic, for instance, is a private Boulder, Colo.-based company that has spent the last 20 years figuring out how to measure thousands of proteins at a time and building the machine-learning algorithms needed to make sense of those measurements. While genes are all made up of the same four building blocks and can be read fairly consistently with DNA sequencing technology, proteins are much more complicated. Each of the 20,000 basic protein structures at work in a human body has a different size and shape. Proteins may have valuable information to impart, but they don’t give up that information too easily.
Smythe, who took over as SomaLogic CEO about a year ago, said the company has finally reached the commercialization stage for its “SomaScan” platform, which can measure 5,000 proteins at a time. The company is working with drug developers to provide proteomic information about patients in clinical trials to help pharmaceutical companies develop drugs that are more effective at targeting certain disease-related proteins without inadvertently affecting proteins that could lead to adverse events. In the past year, the company has announced a new collaboration with Janssen Research & Development and an expansion of its collaboration with Novartis.
The other piece of the company’s business model is developing diagnostic tests for a range of health conditions. From a blood sample, Smythe said, SomaLogic can tell a patient’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next four years. That’s just one of the first batch of proteomics tests SomaLogic released to a small number of physicians in Boulder. Smythe said there are more than 100 tests in the company’s development pipeline, ranging from risk of developing cancer or Alzheimer’s disease to kidney disease, diabetes, and food allergies.
Proteomics testing has the potential to make healthcare less expensive. “This could dramatically lower healthcare delivery costs — exponentially,” Smythe said. He added that SomaLogic’s tests fall into four categories: more convenient, less invasive, less expensive, and novel. “We’ll be able to supplant, in some cases, expensive diagnostic modalities simply from a blood test.”