PlantForm | Newsroom | PlantForm, University of Guelph research collaboration awarded NSERC Engage Grant

PlantForm, University of Guelph research collaboration awarded NSERC Engage Grant

Project aims to enhance efficacy of plant-made antibodies by manipulating dolichol biosynthesis

GUELPH, Ont., June 15, 2015—A research partnership between PlantForm Corporation and a University of Guelph scientist has been awarded an Engage Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Dr. Tariq A. Akhtar, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, will use the funding to investigate the targeted manipulation of dolichol biosynthesis to enhance the efficacy of plant-produced antibodies. Dolichol is a compound that serves as a membrane scaffold for the process of N-glycosylation, the most critical determinant of monoclonal antibody efficiency, whereby a membrane-anchored oligosaccharide or ‘glycan’ is transferred en bloc to the protein antibody soon after it is synthesized.

“We’re pleased to work with Dr. Akhtar to further advance the capabilities of PlantForm’s vivoXPRESS™ production platform,” said Dr. Don Stewart, PlantForm’s President and CEO. “This NSERC Engage project continues our collaboration with the University of Guelph at the forefront of research to advance plant technology for biopharmaceutical production.”

“For the last 30 years, a challenge of fundamental importance in glycobiology has been to understand the biosynthetic pathway to dolichol, a requisite process for all downstream reactions leading to protein glycosylation,” said Dr. Akhtar. “Research in my laboratory has recently uncovered this mechanism and has successfully produced dolichol in bacteria and yeast. The goal of this research project now aims to recapitulate and enhance dolichol synthesis in plants – specifically in the fast-growing tobacco plants (Nicotiana benthamiana and Nicotiana tabacum) that are used in PlantForm’s mAb production line. The predicted outcome of this maneuver will eliminate the ‘bottleneck step’ in protein glycosylation and thereby allow for the increased recovery of functional therapeutic glycoproteins using PlantForm’s platform technologies.”

PlantForm is also an industrial partner for another NSERC Engage Grant, awarded to Dr. Dae-Kyun Ro of the University of Calgary, who is assessing the potential for CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology to improve tobacco-plant production of therapeutic proteins. See the news release.

About PlantForm Corporation (

PlantForm is a Canadian biotech company with a low-cost proprietary manufacturing platform for a wide range of plant-made pharmaceuticals, including monoclonal antibodies, therapeutic proteins and vaccines for the treatment of cancer, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and other life-threatening illnesses. The company’s vivoXPRESS™ technology – developed at the University of Guelph by Dr. J. Christopher Hall, a PlantForm founder and the company’s Chief Scientific Officer – uses genetically modified tobacco plants to ‘grow’ biopharmaceuticals at a significantly lower cost of goods compared to industry standard fermentation systems. Learn more.

For more information, please contact:

   Don Stewart
   President and CEO
   PlantForm Corporation
   (416) 452-7242

   Stacey Curry Gunn
   Director of Communications
   PlantForm Corporation
   (519) 827-1131

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