Read the interview here or watch it in video below.
Q: Explain to me what ‘Unique solutions to unique problems’ means?
A: I see a trend that proteins that are part of new products are getting harder and harder to manufacture. We see this in the pharmaceutical industry, where many of the easy-to-produce proteins, like simple hormones and enzymes, entered the market long ago. The focus now is on more complex, challenging proteins. Such as, bivalent proteins, artificially created proteins that combine different domains, very toxic antibody fragments, and so on. And of course, this diversity and complexity of proteins are why we have so many different expression systems. Both in terms of different organisms being used and also different expression vectors, promoter systems, and so on.
One system simply won’t fit all the various proteins we want to produce and bring to market. On the other hand, companies still complain about proteins being challenging after producing them in an unsuitable system! That’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If every protein is unique, with unique challenges to manufacture, then the expression system, or strain or vector, used for that protein’s production should be unique too!
And that has always been Vectron’s philosophy, to develop bespoke expression vectors for each and every protein. It is really about taking the proteins with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies, seriously. We offer tailor-made solutions to each problem to provide our customers with optimal microbial strains for each of their proteins. Unique solutions to unique problems. To be even better at this, we have recently added a couple of new technologies to our portfolio, VB Evolution and VB Secretion.
Q: Tell me about VB Evolution.
A: It is basically a method to evolve novel expression vectors for every protein. It goes back to our philosophy of creating optimal solutions. And evolution is very good at creating really good solutions. This is how we do it. First we randomly mutagenize our expression vectors, creating millions of mutants. Second we use an ultra-high-throughput screening method to identify those that are good at expressing the customer’s gene. And third, we repeat this process in as many iterations as we would like, with incremental improvements, to perfectly mimic evolution.
We have seen that by using this method, we can end up with expression vectors:
- That are truly novel
- That we have never seen before
- That give higher titers of target proteins
That’s a technology we recently acquired and comes out of Professor Kelly Hughes lab at the University of Utah. It’s a bacterial secretion technology, allowing the controlled transport of proteins from the interior of the cell out into the growth medium. Thus significantly reducing downstream costs because the purification is so much simpler. It also allows more manipulation of the protein since it is easier to change parameters of the growth medium than parameters of the cell’s interior.
Q: And VB Secretion?
A: So we can facilitate disulfide bond formation and avoid degradation. What we are doing now, is finalizing VB Secretion for use in E. coli. E. coli is notoriously poor at secreting proteins, and that’s one of the recognized weaknesses of this otherwise brilliant organism, resulting in companies using other hosts instead, like yeasts, who tend to be good at secreting.
When VB Secretion is ready to be rolled out for use in E. coli, later this year, I expect this organism to become even more popular than it is today since it will accommodate production of even more proteins. But more importantly, I expect it to help get tomorrow’s drugs to move quicker to market and at lower costs.