Signature BioScience

Infobox Company
name = Signature BioScience
foundation = 1998
location_city = San Francisco (initially Hayward)
location_country = USA
location =
key_people = Mark McDade
industry = BioPharmaceutical Discovery and Development
dissolved = 2003

Signature BioScience Inc. was a biotechnology company based in San Francisco and carried out clinical trials on Digitoxin as a potential treatment for cancer. It was formed in 1998 but closed in 2003.


Time line



Signature’s detection-based, cell-oriented drug discovery platform, WaveScreen™ integrates Signature's portfolio of complementary screening technologies, including its proprietary spectroscopy, MCS, and Cytection with assays. The technologies evaluates both cellular and molecular responses to compounds at the beginning of the drug discovery process. The company used WaveScreen to drive lead compound discovery for pharmaceutical and biotech partnership opportunities, while globally commercializing its MCS-based WaveSpec™ instrumentation in collaboration with its partner MDS Sciex. ["Signature to Acquire PrimeCyte, Inc. to Rapidly Advance its Drug Discovery Platform, WaveScreen™" "New England Partners." (1-8-02) Retrieved on 10/11/2008 .]


Cytection™ assays were a part of Signature’s drug discovery and development program. The technology was based on their proprietary screening platform which was used to rapidly discover and efficiently optimize highly qualified small molecules. Cytection™ used diseased and normal patient-derived primary cells, rather than immortalized cell lines, to identify compounds that were selectively active against diseased tissues compared to normal tissues. Signature used the platform for hit identification when screening potential drug compounds as well as for structure activity relationship (SAR) lead optimization.

Multipole Coupling Spectroscopy

Signature also developed a cellular detection system based on its proprietary Multipole Coupling Spectroscopy (MCS) technology. The MCS technology was used for applications in drug discovery and is based upon dielectric spectroscopy. ["Signature BioScience." Knowledge Express® 2008.10/11/2008 .] MCS uses microwave and radio frequencies which can be used to scan proteins and cells. The response signal indicates whether there's an interaction, the change in the structure of the protein or cell and the resulting change in function. ["MARK MCDADE - SIGNATURE BIOSCIENCE: TWST." 10/11/2008 .] Signature used the technology to look at the effect on a given protein or a given cell caused by the addition of another molecule. The system operates in real time with no labels or tags necessary. Compounds can be profiled against many cellular systems, in primary cells, in immortalized cells with the target in its native state, or in cell lines in which the target is artificially introduced. The system allows detection of physical and biological properties of molecules and cells, including target drug receptors and the interactions of two molecules with each other in real time (such as the binding of a test compound to a target drug receptor. ) Signature's patent portfolio relating to MCS consisted of five issued patents: four in the United States, one in the United Kingdom. ["Signature BioScience wins patent for MCS technology" "East Bay Business Time." (March 26, 2002) Retrieved on 10/11/2008 .]

MDS Sciex

In 2003, MDS Sciex, a Toronto-based manufacturer of mass spectrometers, bought the MCS technology and hired 12 former Signature employees. After two years of continued research and development, the bioimpedance technology was launched as a radically new cellular assay for drug discovery. [ "Welcome to" 10/11/2008 ] It is now market as the CellKey™384 System. One of MDS’ developers, Dr. Simon Pitchford, was a recipient of the PolyPops Foundation Award of the 2008 Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) for his contribution to the development of the CellKey™ System. ["CellKey News and Press Release." 10/11/2008 ]

:CellKeyTM 384 System:After, mammalian cells are seeded onto a custom 96-well microtiter plate that contains electrodes at the bottom of each well. The CellKey™ System then supplies a constant voltage, producing a current that at low frequencies flows both around and between cells (extracellular current, Ziec) and at high frequencies through cells (transcellular current, Zitc). [“CellKey - Technology.” 10/11/08 ] Impedance changes can then be linked to changes in cell-substrate adherence, changes in cell shape and volume, and changes in cell-cell interactions. These factors individually or collectively affect the flow of extracellular and transcellular current, influencing the magnitude and characteristics of the signal measured. Activation of cell receptors results in characteristic bioimpedance measurements corresponding to the signaling pathway being activated. These are unique to the main subsets of G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and tyrosine kinase receptors (TKRS).

Market Assessment

Diamond Model

Potential Reasons for Dissolving the Venture


*cite web |url=
title=Signature BioScience to shut down |accessdate=2008-10-10 |last=Levine |first=Daniel|coauthors= |date=April 17, 2003 |work=San Francisco Business Times |publisher=

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