RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – So what exactly is “cooking” in all those huge vats at biopharmaceutical firms, and how is the recipe coming together? Head chef – make that chief executive officer – John Ryals and his crew of scientists at Metabolon are providing more and more answers.

Their latest client is drug giant Pfizer, which wants to use Metabolon technology for testing of biopharmaceutical compounds its researching in so-called bioreactors.

Pfizer’s Bioprocess R&D Group has signed on to use mVision – what Metabolon calls “biochemical profiling technology.” Metabolon’s service unit will use mVision to test samples from Pfizer to see what’s cooking and how plus offer data that Pfizer can use to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its research.

Metabolon didn’t disclose the financial aspects of its deal with Pfizer, but a spokesperson pointed out that the venture-backed company is now working with 13 of the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical firms.

And don’t be surprised if Metabolon doesn’t announce more deals for testing and other services in the near future. In June, it was awarded a third patent, further bolstering its intellectual portfolio and industry reputation.

Metabolon focuses on metabolomics, which is an approach to identifying biomarkers. The firm believes its technology will "dramatically impact drug discovery and development processes."

What exactly is metabolomics? It’s the study of small molecules, such as glucose and cholesterol that are produced by cellular metabolism. The metabolome is the catalog of those molecules in a specific organism.

The technology can be used to identify safer compounds for drug development and thus shorten time to market. Metabolon also says biomarkers can indicate an early presence of a disease.

Pfizer will use mVision to generate “snapshots” of cells as they grow in bioreactors. The data could help determine the potential of cell lines as possible products. The snapshots also could help Pfizer streamline its operations and improve production, the Metabolon spokesperson explained.

The bioreactors mix cells with nutrients to produce what Metabolon calls a “protein of interest.” mVision should help Pfizer identify the rate at which nutrients are consumed, thus making sure cells aren’t starved. mVision also can help identify toxic “species” that can damage or kill cells.

As drug companies battle increasing costs, losing patent control of popular products and facing pressure to develop new drugs, technology provided by Metabolon could help in several areas.

"The ultimate goal for Pfizer is to achieve molecular-level knowledge of cellular metabolism in industrially relevant mammalian cell lines,” said Ellen McCormick, the director of the Bioprocess Research and Development unit at Pfizer, in a statement about the Metabolon contract. “We seek this information to enable rationale design of process improvements and cell line selection, toward improved quality, robustness and productivity of our biotherapeutic manufacturing processes."

Who knows, maybe the next wonder drug will be one a Metabolon recipe helps cook up.