Hui Ge describes protein as "the player for all human activities," from breathing to healing. His four-year-old College Park company, ProteinOne, aims to mass-produce proteins for use in scientific research.
While working as the head of a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, Ge refined a process to extract hundreds of proteins from cells at once instead of doing so one by one. He published his findings, then sought to put them to commercial use.
In 2000, Peter Shin, chairman and president of MedLink Hospital & Nursing Center at Capitol Hill in Washington, was looking for a technology investment. He found Ge, who has more than 20 years of experience as a molecular biologist and protein biochemist. They created ProteinOne, with Shin, 53, as chairman and chief executive and Ge, 49, as vice president and chief scientific officer.
ProteinOne focuses on producing certain groups of proteins, such as those believed to be related to the growth of cancers, diabetes and other diseases.
Ge said there are 25,000 to 30,000 genes in the human body, and each of those genes can produce one to several hundred different proteins with different functions.
To obtain pure proteins, ProteinOne mimics what happens in the body. The company isolates a specific human gene and implants it into cells from bacteria, insects or mammals. The cells react by generating a particular protein that is then captured.
The process can take from one week to two months. ProteinOne sells the highly purified active proteins to research institutions and pharmaceutical companies, Ge said.
Although the company's proteins are not yet approved for use in clinical trials, they are being used for research in such areas as tumor suppression and the development of antibodies to fight diseases, he said. ProteinOne sells to about 500 customers worldwide, in countries including China, France, Japan, Belgium and Israel.
This fall, upon graduating from the incubator program at the University of Maryland, ProteinOne plans to move into a new space in Bethesda. The company last week established a partnership with OriGene Technologies Inc., a DNA cloning company in Rockville.