Vision, Cutting-Edge Technology, and Deep Expertise. Interview with the Scientists at Propath UK, the Royals Among the CROs.

A few years ago, the UK Prime Minister’s office announced that Propath, a trusted specialist in molecular pathology for biopharmaceutical research and development, had been nominated to receive a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of the company’s exceptional contribution to the UK’s Life Sciences sector.
The award was established in November 1965 and is the UK’s most prestigious business accolade.  One can only imagine what it means to the scientists and technicians at Propath to see their vision, work ethic, and scientific contribution recognized to such an impressive level. And an invitation to a Royal reception doesn’t hurt either!

NanoString and Propath UK share these fundamental values, as we came together to offer scientists the advantages of gaining a deeper understanding of cancer and its microenvironment, with multiplex gene expression and protein analysis from distinct regions of interest. Propath UK now offers the power of nCounter® Systems and the revolutionary GeoMx® DSP.

Today, after interviewing the scientists behind Propath’s excellence, we at NanoString feel a little Royal too.

NSTG: To start, we would like to introduce Propath to our readers. You are a niche but powerful CRO firm established in 1980 in the UK and a leading specialist in molecular pathology research services.  Propath abides by four fundamental core principles: genuine expertise, consistent quality, responsive service, and continued investment.  This is clearly working very well for you since you have been in business for 40 years now. Can you tell us how this model translates to the care you offer to customers?

Propath: These principles run through everything we do at Propath. We attribute our success to one thing:  putting our clients at the centre of everything we do.  This means producing work of a high standard – consistently – in a manner that is reliable and efficient.  It means good communication.  It means being open and honest. And it means adding value to our clients’ projects, wherever we can, by offering genuine expertise.

We’ve built a long-term client base across the world and become a premium provider of NanoString nCounter gene expression services and, most recently, GeoMx digital spatial analysis.  In addition, we provide multiplexed immunohistochemistry and method development, histopathology, and digital pathology.  All performed in compliance with GLP/GCP or, if non-regulatory, within our GLP/GCP compliant environment.

NSTG: You are located in Hereford, a lovely, historic town with ~55,000 people and yet, you provide cutting-edge technology to customers throughout western Europe. Can you tell our readers how your facility is organized and how you reach so many countries outside the UK?

Propath: We are very fortunate to be based in such a beautiful location, which is one of the reasons we’ve managed to attract such talented scientists to our company. Results and reputation travel quickly in BioPharma!

The key to supporting customers is clear communication and fast turnaround times, without compromising quality. For communication, we ensure that our response times and proactivity are second to none. To facilitate the fastest response, we use video conferencing (particularly in these COVID-19 times) to meet with customers to hold commercial and study update meetings. The world is becoming a smaller place! The UK is blessed with fantastic transport links meaning that samples/documentation can be shipped to or from Propath and received the next day.

NSTG: Propath provides the full range of NanoString capabilities, from gene and protein expression to miRNA, CNV, & gene fusion analysis, whether the customer is using off-the-shelf or custom probes. What is the added value of offering NanoString research tools to your customers?

Propath: As one of NanoString’s Core Service Labs, we have gained a huge amount of experience in conducting NanoString studies on precious clinical samples, both on the nCounter and GeoMx digital spatial analysis platforms.

The nCounter offers a fast and highly reproducible way to digitally quantify gene and protein expression in samples, without the cost and amplification bias of qPCR and NGS.  For our clients who work in translational science and biomarker discovery, this can accelerate their research programmes and reduce costs.   The nCounter is also very effective with degraded FFPE samples, unlocking a potential treasure trove of valuable information from archived FFPE blocks.  

For spatial information, the GeoMx is a game changer!  Projects that would have been non-starters due to the availability of limited precious tissue, can now be performed on single sections, providing highly multiplexed datasets with an immediate quantitative output.

NSTG: How does your broad-based experience with NanoString offerings resonate with potential clients?

Propath: Clients are delighted that we offer a range of complimentary services, including NanoString, molecular pathology, and histopathology, all from one GLP/GCP-compliant facility.  The GeoMx is a superb addition to our service offering as it draws upon our expertise of performing NanoString nCounter and IHC /IF studies. It’s an ideal fit!   

For one client, we were able to successfully present analysis strategies that involve multiple biomarkers but for whom limited material is a critical constraint (in this case, core needle biopsies).  For this client running a multiplexed IF approach was unfeasible, but the GeoMx transforms this paradox – now, with just a single section, we can analyse multiple markers, with the extremely valuable additional benefit of quantitative spatial information.

Similarly, exploratory gene expression analysis using nCounter panels such as the PanCancer IO360 have been used alongside focused IHC to determine broader changes post-treatment in clinical samples.

NSTG: The highly consultative Propath business model combined with the NanoString Data Analysis Service provides raw and normalized data, statistical outputs, and publication-ready figures. This is a winning combination! How is your experience, does this combination facilitate hypothesis testing, from data interpretation to publication?

Propath: I agree that this is a strong combination.  For our biopharma clients, it provides new, actionable insights into drug mechanisms and responses, helping them make decisions about their pipeline and the potential benefits to patients.  Data is returned quickly and with a tranche of analysis options.  Our clients find this hugely valuable. 

NSTG: The company provides expert and regulatory compliant services in the critical area of clinical development while providing an extensive range of services in histopathology. You now offer the GeoMx® Digital Spatial Profiler. How, in your opinion, does this enrich, or even surpass, the limited capabilities of traditional pathology studies?

Propath: For many studies, we find that the GeoMx offers a vastly superior analysis option to traditional multiplexed IHC or immunofluorescence studies.  IHC/IF studies can be restricted by sample availability, limitations to multiplex staining, the time involved to perform the study, and cost.  

GeoMx offers a range of validated, ready-to-run high-plex panels which provide a fast, cost-effective solution, providing a powerful dataset of multiplexed and spatial information.

NSTG: Can you tell us something about the scientific insights your customers will be able to gain when they begin to add GeoMx DSP to more traditional histopathology analysis?

Propath: As we have clients that range from academia to large pharma the insights are endless. But I think that the ability to focus on specific areas and interactions is going to drive mechanistic discoveries for many people. Whether it is immunology, cancer biology, understanding of treatment effects, or elucidating synergistic drug mechanisms, it is truly going to be very exciting to be involved in the work! In addition, it is going to be really rewarding to help researchers link histopathology with quantitative expression data which could help explain why they are seeing the patterns and pathology in their samples.

NSTG: Perusing the recent literature, there is a clear and urgent need to understand the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and the host immune system. Because GeoMx is teaching us that the location of gene and protein markers is key, how do you think the partnership between Propath and NanoString technologies will help in the fight against this invisible enemy?

Propath: The more that is understood about the way that Sars-CoV-2 interacts with the immune system, the better. Particularly, understanding how infection varies across different people or what is going on in populations where subtle differences may have big impacts in the duration of illness or recovery are potential areas where the use of NanoString technologies can shine. The speed at which samples can be collected and analysed to produce good size datasets with robust data and controls is second to none with NanoString and Propath have the ability to move from samples to data quickly as well. So, the combination of robust workflows in the lab and great assays will help researchers get the answers they need as fast as is possible.

NSTG: Propath and NanoString have come together again to offer a grant program for nCounter analysis of COVID-19 samples to researchers exploring the pathogenesis and host response of SARs-CoV-2. Can you tell our readers the reasoning behind the decision to offer this chance to scientists?

Propath: The impact that COVID has had on the world has been devastating and it is humbling to see how health professionals are conducting themselves, so we all need to do our bit. This could be staying at home, wearing a face mask etc, but at Propath, we can do a bit more. We have the expertise to help – whether it is giving time to offer expert opinion on the BIA Covid-19 Antibody Task Force or by providing our expertise of performing NanoString Studies with other research scientists who are striving to develop greater insight into the biology of the virus so that we can combat this and the next Coronavirus threat.

For Research Use Only. Not for Use in Diagnostic Procedures


By Laura Tabellini Pierre
For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.