On ResearchGate: Life science company goes social to get ahead in competitive market

Antibodies have been a staple in life science research for many years. Their widespread use comes despite their many flaws.

Avacta Life Sciences, which was spun out of the University of Leeds in 2012, produce an affinity reagent called Affimers. Affimers, like traditional antibodies, are designed to help researchers specifically capture and detect protein molecules yet lack many of the inherent limitations of antibodies.

In the body, antibodies attach themselves to foreign invaders like bacteria called antigens and flag them for destruction. In research, it is their ability to latch onto specific molecules, helping to isolate and identify them that makes antibodies so useful.

However, antibodies have a number of limitations. Antibodies are made by triggering an immune reaction in an animal. As each animal reacts slightly differently, they are often hard to reproduce. They are also relatively large which makes them tricky to use in experiments that require small reagents. Finally, development times for custom antibodies can range from nine to twelve months.

Affimers have been designed as direct replacements for antibodies. Animals are not used in production so there are no problems with reproducibility. They are a tenth of the size of antibodies and can be engineered specifically to meet the researcher’s desired characteristics. It also takes less time to make them; custom Affimers can be developed in seven weeks.

Although Affimers offer many clear advantages over alternative affinity reagents, the marketplace is competitive. There are over 350 companies in the US alone, many of which offer money-back guarantees, no-questions-asked exchanges, and buyer’s credits.

Toni Hoffman, a senior scientist at Avacta, used ResearchGate to reduce start-up costs and increase efficiency in a previous project.

On the network researchers from around the world, the private and public sector, and all areas of expertise discuss research and ask questions. Hoffman says: “ResearchGate adds a personal component and as such helps me to remember other researchers and their work. In a way it bridges a gap between personal meetings and the impersonal reading of published work.”

For Hoffman the exchange of knowledge that’s traditionally not written down or shared was most useful. Many of the questions he needed answered had already been asked by peers on the network: “ResearchGate has proved to be useful as a repository of questions and answers on issues I encounter while doing experiments in the lab.”

When he did need to find something specific like a cheap antifoam alternative to avoid excessive foam in the production process, the ResearchGate community offered three solutions. The answers came from a diverse range of researchers and institutions, including the University of CologneAthens State UniversityAlbert Einstein College of Medicine, and the U.S. pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb.

By adding a social layer to research, ResearchGate can offer access to one of the most important resources in research: other people and their knowledge – whether in the public or private sector.

Image courtesy of Avacta.