Working as a post doc in the Cornell University lab of Fred McLafferty, Gary Valaskovic focused his efforts on combining his love of moving back boundaries with his background in microfabrication. Gary, working together with Neil Kelleher, then a graduate student, were able to drastically improve the sensitivity of two powerful techniques: chemical separations and mass spectrometry. Under Fred’s guidance, they applied these heightened abilities to a fundamental challenge in biochemistry, to better understand biology by knowing what proteins are present at a cellular level.
The resulting work was quickly recognized by the scientific community as seminal and laid a key technical foundation for the field of proteomics to flourish. Follow up from a paper in the influential journal Science, included requests from around the world for their electrospray emitter technology so researchers could try the new technique. Realizing a market was springing up around the emitter, Gary worked with Cornell to patent the technology as the foundation of a new business. Raised by parents who created their own opportunities, Emily Ehrenfeld didn’t hesitate when Gary suggested starting a company based on manufacturing the emitter for protein researchers.
Now in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gary and Emily launched New Objective to manufacture PicoTips®. The newly named consumable created a commercial source of emitters allowing the use of nanospray in looking for clues to health in the mixture of proteins found in the body. For qualitative proteomics, nanospray was a powerful analysis that gave tremendous results, but like any new technique, didn’t have many commercially available tools to make it accessible beyond the tinkerers. Even with the acknowledgement of it as a superior technique, the steep learning curve of setting up the equipment for early adopters of nanoflow kept many out of the field.
New Objective, started on the dining room table, moved to a modest lab space in Cambridge to manufacture PicoTips out of the strongest and most chemically inert available material: synthetic fused silica. Many researchers were making their own emitters at that time. New Objective was founded on quality, high performance, and controlling the inner diameter of the tip with sub-micrometer precision. Each PicoTip the scientist took from the box was just like the last, and offered the scientist steady and reliable performance, a huge advantage over the variability and unpredictability of making them in the lab one at a time. The key part of the nanospray enabled mass spectrometry set up was now easily purchased and results replicated. Soon the company had established itself as the best source of emitters and related products for nanospray.
Ease of Use
New Objective became the gold standard within the field of qualitative proteomics. With demand increasing and lead times growing, the company expanded its footprint and employee number to better match production output with the market need. Wanting greater ability to forecast the market and work with the major corporate participants, Mike Lee was brought on to focus on business development and market analysis. Mike saw the importance of integrating the various components in nanospray for ease of use and encouraged Gary to combine the emitter and chromatography column. Soon the new line of PicoFrits™ and Packed PicoFrit columns were on the market. The column in a PicoFrit was the emitter, with zero dead volume and no post column mixing, the PicoFrit delivered unprecedented results as well as ease of use.
With a deep technical and management background in big pharma, connections throughout the industry, Mike was able to position the company with academic and industry collaborations for product development as well as early indicators of market shifts. He recognized an upcoming market shift to quantitative proteomics and introduced Gary to Nathan Yates, then at Merck. Gary and Mike worked with Nathan to create a research tool that delivered both high performance but was easy to use for those now interested in measuring the amount of protein. From this collaboration grew the PicoChip® which gave any researcher the ability to harness the power of nanobore chromatography LCMS without needing to spend years learning the techniques or hiring an expert to run their samples.
Helping to Understand Biology
After over 20 years of New Objective serving the proteomics research market with Gary’s technical innovations, and easy to use solutions he and Mike developed, Mike saw a great opportunity for the company to move into adjacent markets within the pharmaceutical screening and clinical diagnostic world. Mass spectrometry has been recognized for its speed and accuracy but there had been technical challenges keeping it from greater utilization within these areas. With Mike’s leadership, the company is now participating in several major initiatives in these new markets designed to incorporate the benefits of mass spectrometry into laboratory screening for rare and routine diseases in humans. Working with Amanda Berg, Mike and Amanda integrated New Objective technology into FlowChip™, a microspray solution adaptable across mass spectrometry platforms. Gary transitioned from corporate management into a research advisory role to enable more time working on developments for the microfluidics company, Mozaic Solutions, he founded with Mike, Emily and Professor Robert Kennedy.
With the move into adjacent spaces, Mike recognized the opportunity for unique chemistries to be offered in the PicoChip, PicoFrit and FlowChip formats. Under his guidance, New Objective is offering chemistries to ensure an easy transition for current methods, used with conventional flow rates, to move into the lower-flow regimes gaining the many benefits that lower flow rates offer.
Focusing on the Patient
Through his global series of CPSA meetings, Mike has created a community committed to working across boundaries to improve clinical solutions. He has brought the patient into the conversation and focused integration of innovation with the patient’s needs as primary. As part of that agenda, New Objective with other industry partners, is continuing to move upstream and include sampling and sample prep as part of targeted Solutions. By tailoring the sampling method, chemistry, procedure and flow rates to the specific analysis within one easy-to-use and portable device, the focus can be on the patient’s outcome and not on the equipment.
Under Mike’s leadership the company has undergone a restructuring to remain stable during the uncertain times brought on by the pandemic, enable clearer insight into customer’s needs and more rapid product delivery to key collaborators. He has brought on additional industry leaders to our leadership team to further build our community and understanding of market needs. We see the growing demand for our Solutions and are scaling up to meet it. We will keep our central role in the proteomics market, continue to innovate as our collaborators direct, and expand to assist those who are working to reduce disease. Working with our community we are improving the speed, accuracy, and efficacy of our healthcare system. Together. Every day.