Super yeast promises 300x more protein production

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Therapeutic proteins, Protein

Creation of complex therapeutic proteins appears to have taken a
sizeable step forward after researchers increased production levels
300-fold.

By using genetically modified 'super yeast' cells the Californian researchers claim in the Journal of the American Chemical Society​ to have found an efficient method of producing the highly promising therapeutic proteins. There are concerns within the industry that demand for therapeutic proteins could outstrip supply, which would deprive the world treatments that could have applications in combating a diverse range of ailments. A study published in the journal Chemical Engineering Progress​ in October 2007 stated: "Several analyses indicate that demand will eventually outpace production of these proteins. This imminent shortage has served to emphasise the need to improve on the yield that can be obtained from the systems currently in place​." Yeast is currently one of a range of tools used in the production of therapeutic proteins, owing to its ability to synthesise complex proteins. Unfortunately yield is held back by the inefficiency of its protein making machinery. By inserting parts of Escherichia coli​, which has highly efficient but simplistic protein making equipment, into a yeast cell the researchers achieved the best of both worlds. This created, as the researchers were aiming to, a highly efficient method for synthesising proteins from unnatural amino acids (UAAs). UAAs are made by scientists and are any amino acids which are not one of the 20 normally used by living things to synthesise proteins. By using this broader palette of amino acids researchers can create a large portfolio of therapeutic proteins. Conceivably some of these proteins could be future blockbusters and this has led to pharmaceutical companies casting covetous glances at biotech firms as they try and plot a way out of their current difficulties. Don Dion, publisher and chief investment strategist of Fidelity Independent Adviser​, recently speculated that as "Big Pharma is sitting on a pile of cash and struggling with weak pipelines​" a wave of mergers and acquisitions may occur. This is not the first time financial analysts have predicted that big pharma would splurge cash on biotech companies but the feeling is that with in-house pipelines running dry they have to act at some point. Without improvements to the production techniques an increased reliance on therapeutic proteins would lead to a bottleneck. Consequently, developments such as super yeast could have significant implications for patients and pharmaceutical companies.

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