Researchers develop method to simplify production of proteins used in many types of drugs

August 28, 2012
Ellen Brune, doctoral student in chemical engineering and chief scientific officer of Boston Mountain Biotech, LLC.

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed a method to simplify the pharmaceutical production of proteins used in drugs that treat a variety of diseases and health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, arthritis and macular degeneration.

With assistance from the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program, Ellen Brune, the primary researcher and inventor of the technology, has started a company to shorten development time so that can get to patients faster. Current protein is a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process because manufacturers must separate and extract contaminant proteins.

Brune, a doctoral student in chemical engineering, created a series of custom strains of the that express minimized sets of contaminants or "nuisance" proteins. Brune then sought assistance to commercialize the technology. In an entrepreneurship class taught by Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship and management professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Brune created Boston Mountain Biotech LLC, a research and biotechnology firm that will save significant time by preparing the proteins for the manufacturing process.

"Millions of people across the globe are suffering from treatable diseases because manufacturers cannot afford to make the drugs they need," Brune said. "These companies have to spend too much time and money getting rid of stuff that doesn't work to get to the stuff that does. Our work addresses this problem. Our cell lines reduce the garbage, so to speak, before the manufacturing process begins."

Current protein pharmaceutical manufacturing involves separating or cleaning up "background" contamination to reach the —a long and expensive process. Background contamination is undesirable and unnecessary proteins that are prohibited by the U.S. in the final drug product. The FDA requires that the final product be 99 percent pure.

Drug companies spend roughly $8 billion a year trying to clean up these contaminants during production. Brune compares the process to making orange juice by blending the peel and seeds along with the meat of an orange. Once the juice is made, producers would then have to filter out the chunks of seeds and peel.

In the laboratory, Brune worked under the direction of chemical engineering professor Bob Beitle, one of several researchers who have been investigating this problem for more than a decade. Brune designed custom strains of "Lotus" E. coli. Lotus refers to a suite of cell lines optimized to work with specific separation techniques and characteristics. She accomplished this through bio-separation and genetic manipulation, specifically by removing the sections of DNA that code for the contaminant regions. Her work simplifies the purification process on the front end of protein , so that the cell line is specifically developed for manufacturing. Current cell lines used for protein production look nothing like what has to be achieved for large-scale manufacturing, Brune said.

Brune serves as chief scientific officer at Boston Mountain Biotech. In addition to the assistance from Reeves and the entrepreneurship program, the company has received significant support from the NSF I-Corps Program, including $50,000 in marketing and operational funding and participation in an innovative, start-up training program that provided a foundation for connecting with potential investors. Boston Mountain Biotech has also won a total of $50,000 from business plan competitions, mostly due to Brune's persuasive presentation skills. The company is seeking additional investors and is currently working with two manufacturers on pilot testing.

Brune has produced two videos about the company, an informational video for the I-Corps grant and a second video intended for investors.

Explore further: U.S. pharmaceutical industry is studied

Related Stories

New tool for 'right first time' drug manufacture

September 22, 2008

A technology which provides high quality images of the crystallisation process marks the next step towards a 'right first time' approach to drug manufacture, according to engineers at the University of Leeds.

Schizophrenic patients' frozen faces harm social interactions

January 23, 2009

Non-verbal communication, in the form of facial expressions, may be impaired in people with schizophrenia. Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions have shown that deficits ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

New 'self-healing' gel makes electronics more flexible

November 25, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the ...

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

November 23, 2015

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first ...

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.