PlantForm research partnership awarded NSERC Alliance grant to enable commercial-scale production of protein drugs
Grant supports U of Alberta scientist’s advancement of glycoengineering technology for plant-derived proteins
GUELPH, Ont., Dec. 1, 2020 — PlantForm Corporation and University of Alberta scientist Dr. Warren Wakarchuk have received an Alliance Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) for research to enable commercial-scale production of effective, low-cost, plant-made protein drugs, including an antidote to chemical nerve agents.
The Wakarchuk lab is a world leader in pioneering the use of enzymes to make or remodel glycans — complex chains of sugar molecules on proteins and the surface of cells that play a key role in regulating immune cell signalling and function. PlantForm’s plant-based manufacturing system for large-molecule protein drugs (biologics) requires glycan remodelling on proteins to effectively mimic human glycan structures to reduce the risk of rejection and to improve the circulating life time of the protein.
The two-year project, supported by $184,000 from NSERC plus a $92,000 cash and in-kind investment by PlantForm, will focus on using in vitro glycan remodelling to improve the efficacy and serum half-life of butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), a countermeasure for chemical nerve agents such as soman and sarin, made using PlantForm’s proprietary plant-based vivoXPRESS® platform.
“This Alliance Grant expands and strengthens our research collaboration with Dr. Wakarchuk and his team to continue to advance our novel glycosylation technology for our pipeline of innovative protein-based drugs,” said Dr. Don Stewart, PlantForm’s President and CEO.
Glycosylation is the process of attaching sugars to organic molecules to modify their properties. The researchers will use enzymes engineered by the Wakarchuk team to remodel glycans on target proteins for improved stability and drug efficacy, with a focus on doing so at a commercial scale.
“Plants are an excellent alternative to mammalian cell cultures for the low-cost production of protein-based drugs. But the production of the authentic human glycan structures is difficult to control in both mammalian- and plant-based expression systems,” said Wakarchuk, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Faculty of Science, as well as Scientific Director of GlycoNet, a pan-Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence of more than 140 researchers, centred at UAlberta.
“This project will demonstrate the value and potential of in vitro glycoengineering to overcome those challenges.”
The technology will advance PlantForm’s BuChE program, which is supported by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).
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