PlantForm, Wilfrid Laurier University research partnership receives NSERC Engage grant

GUELPH, Ont., Nov. 27, 2019A research partnership involving PlantForm Corporation and a Wilfrid Laurier University scientist has been awarded an Engage Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The funding will support the work of Dr. Matthew Smith on the mechanisms of protein trafficking — the process of sorting protein molecules to direct them to specific locations within cells and moving them across cellular membranes — and its potential to enhance expression of therapeutic proteins by plants grown using PlantForm’s vivoXPRESS® manufacturing platform.

vivoXPRESS® uses a common Agrobacterium to deliver the genes encoded with the target proteins to the cells of tobacco plants which, in effect, become a factory for manufacturing the protein. The high-yield, low-cost platform has proven to be a fast, reliable method for producing safe, efficacious monoclonal antibodies, enzymes, and vaccines to treat cancer, inflammatory diseases and other life-threatening or debilitating conditions. But some target proteins have proven more difficult to produce using the system, resulting in lower than expected yields.

The $25,000 Engage Grant will support research aimed at understanding whether there is an advantage to transporting proteins into the chloroplasts compared to the approach currently used by vivoXPRESS®, which involves glycosylation — the process of attaching carbohydrate/sugar molecules to proteins in order to modify their pharmacokinetic properties.

“Most of the therapeutic proteins in PlantForm's product pipeline are secreted glycoproteins which are processed through the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) /Golgi apparatus and are recovered from the plant after being secreted from the cell with a mammalian-like glycosylation,” said Smith. “This project will investigate expression and targeting to the chloroplast of a few model therapeutic proteins that are non- glycosylated and have proven difficult to express using the company’s current technology.”

Advancing understanding of the protein trafficking process may open up new avenues for expressing therapeutic proteins — without requiring glycosylation — to expand PlantForm’s product pipeline.

“We look forward to working with Dr. Smith in evaluating chloroplast targeting as an alternative to our current approach,” said Doug Cossar, PlantForm VP of Research. “By advancing understanding of the metabolic pathways in our tobacco plants, we will continue to improve our technology to make life-saving antibody and protein drugs more widely available at a much lower cost.”

About PlantForm Corporation (
PlantForm Corporation is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the rapid development and production of specialty antibody and protein drugs using the company’s proprietary vivoXPRESS® platform. The plant-based vivoXPRESS® system makes it easier, faster and less expensive to produce approved biologic drugs for novel indications and new markets. The company’s pipeline includes trastuzumab for a novel indication in nerve regeneration, a biosimilar version of Lucentis® and other niche indication drugs. Learn more.                                                     

For more information, please contact:
Doug Cossar
VP Research
+1 416-452-7242
Stacey Curry Gunn
Director of Communications
+1 519-827-1131

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