Glycoproteins made using yeast have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of treatments for the NHS.

IBioIC funding has helped Ingenza to advance the development of a crucial technology for manufacturing an important category of therapeutic molecules, and enabled the company to secure further funding to bring the project closer to commercialisation.
Ingenza Ltd spun out of Edinburgh University in 2002 and has since become a world leader in using synthetic biology to develop novel and innovative industrial biotechnology processes. The company boasts an expert team combining synthetic chemistry, informatics, molecular genetics, biochemistry and fermentation technology to provide efficient scalable solutions for the biomanufacture of chemicals, biologics, enzymes, consumer products, pharmaceuticals and biofuels from sustainable sources. This project tapped into academic expertise in Paul Barlow’s lab at the University of Edinburgh to develop a new way to efficiently produce high-quality glycoproteins using specially engineered yeast.

Why glycoproteins?
Glycoproteins are proteins that have sugar molecules attached. Examples include the antibodies that are revolutionising treatments for cancer, blood disorders, skin diseases, degenerative eye conditions and arthritis. But glycoproteins are difficult to manufacture at scale, which slows progress and makes them the most expensive of all drugs.  With ever more therapeutically effective glycoproteins being approved the demand from patients is growing exponentially and the cost implications for the NHS are massive.
What have yeast got to do with it?
Yeast have been exploited for millennia, from beer and bread making in ancient times to modern-day production of spider’s silk for sustainable fashion materials, and of animal proteins for “Impossible Burgers”.  In the current project, yeast cells are used to make “humanised” glycoproteins.  This means that instead of attaching yeast sugars to the proteins they attach human sugars.  To achieve this, DNA was added to the yeast in the form of a synthetic “extra” chromosome containing many of the genes necessary to make human sugars.

What is next for the engineered yeast?
Now that the concept of engineering yeast to produce human-like glycoproteins has been realised, the team want to complete the project by producing a strain with all the required parts to produce complete, humanised glycoproteins suitable for use in the clinic. Professor Barlow has secured Wellcome funding to research some of the fundamental processes underpinning this approach, while IBioIC will support the production of the final strain.