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The grant will support the advancement of glycoengineering technology for plant-derived proteins developed by a University of Alberta scientist partnered with PlantForm.
On Dec. 1, 2020, PlantForm, a privately held Canadian biopharmaceutical company, announced that the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded it and its research partner, University of Alberta (UAlberta) scientist Dr. Warren Wakarchuk, an Alliance Grant to conduct research that will enable the commercial-scale production of effective, low-cost, plant-made protein therapeutics, including an antidote to chemical nerve agents.
The Wakarchuk lab pioneered the use of enzymes to make or remodel glycans, which play a key role in regulating immune cell signaling and function, and PlantForm’s plant-based manufacturing system for large-molecule protein drugs (biologics) requires glycan remodeling. Glycan remodeling on proteins effectively mimics human glycan structures, which reduces the risk of rejection and improves the circulation lifetime of the protein, according to PlantForm in a company press release.
The two-year project, which will be supported by $184,000 from NSERC plus a $92,000 cash and in-kind investment by PlantForm, will focus on using in-vitro glycan remodeling to improve the efficacy and serum half-life of butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), a countermeasure for chemical nerve agents, such as soman and sarin. The BuChE is produced using PlantForm’s proprietary plant-based vivoXPRESS platform. 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 commercial-scale production.
“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, in the press release.
“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 Centers of Excellence consisting of more than 140 researchers centered in UAlberta, in the press release.