Mass spectrometry mapping methods developed at Imperial College London since the 1970s have led to powerful new techniques for identifying and characterising the protein compounds produced by the biopharmaceutical industry. Much of the research that led to the new techniques received funding from BBSRC's predecessors.
The research was led by Professor Howard Morris, who established spinout company M-SCAN in 1979 to commercialise advances in mass spectrometry and provide a service to the fledgling UK biotechnology industry.
|65||Employees of M-Scan in 2010|
|$45M||Market capitalisation in 2010|
|4||Laboratories in UK, USA, Switzerland and Germany|
Mass spectrometry is a technique to determine the composition and chemical structure of molecules. "We developed a unique mass spectrometer at Imperial in the 1970s, which was purchased using funding from BBSRC's predecessor, the Science Research Council," says Morris. He realised that researchers could determine much of the protein's structural information using specific enzyme digests to break large protein molecules into a mixture of fragments with molecular weight of less than 3,000 daltons – within range of his new mass spectrometry mapping techniques which were christened 'MS Mapping'.
As mass spectrometry became the accepted technology for characterising proteins, M-SCAN's methods have been included in international biotechnology testing guidelines issued by the International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH); these bring together European, American and Japanese regulators and the pharmaceutical industry to discuss scientific and technical aspects of drug regulation.
Since the 1980s M-SCAN has characterised new drug products for many hundreds of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies worldwide, including the majority of the 'top 50' biopharmaceutical products such as monoclonal antibodies, cytokines and blood glycoproteins. In autumn 2010, M-SCAN merged with scientific testing company SGS to become SGS M-SCAN.
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Image: Gamma interferon structure, Flickr