Protein-based therapies have revolutionised the treatment of cancers and many other serious diseases. Patients who previously could not be helped have benefited greatly from immunotherapies. Among other diseases, HER2-positive breast cancer can now be treated effectively. In immunotherapy, the patient’s own immune defences are harnessed to destroy cancer cells.
With the help of the Integrated Secretion Solution (ISS) developed at the University of Helsinki, the production of therapeutic proteins can be optimised in a new way, which significantly speeds up and intensifies the process from what it is now. At the moment, it takes drug manufacturers months, even years, to produce therapeutic proteins. The ISS solution shortens this span to mere weeks.
“Production optimisation generates savings for drug makers,” says Ville Paavilainen, who is responsible for the ISS project at the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki.
“Culturing proteins in a single bioreactor with a capacity of several thousand litres alone costs millions. The impact on costs will be genuinely valuable if we are able to increase efficiency by, say, 10%.”
In addition to many cancer types, protein-based therapies can also be used to treat multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and other immunological diseases. At the same time, therapeutic proteins are important diagnostic tools.
What makes the technical solution developed in the ISS project unique, besides the accelerated process, is that it can be used to screen for extremely large quantities of DNA constructs that encode therapeutic proteins. Based on this code, cells can be directed to produce exactly the therapeutic proteins needed.
“In other words, we have the capacity to test hundreds of thousands of precursors, whereas the current testing capacity for pinpointing suitable DNA constructs ranges between dozens or hundreds of constructs.”
In terms of scope and speed, there is no corresponding scalability available on the market, which makes it possible to introduce even entirely new therapies to the market with the help of the ISS technique.
“We identify the best way to produce therapeutic proteins for our customers.”
The ISS project, launched in 2019, entered the commercialisation phase after receiving Research to Business funding from Business Finland. The plan is to establish a startup by the end of the commercialisation phase in 2023.
“Today, the majority of drug development is focused on protein-based therapies. The field is accelerating and developing rapidly,” Paavilainen says.
“Therapeutic antibodies alone make up a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Our broad pool of future customers include small-scale biotech companies, large multinational corporations as well as producers of generic proteins.”
The primary long-term goal is for the ISS solution to enable new therapies that would otherwise not come to fruition. This would make it possible to help more and more patients with serious diseases.
“Our goal is to have a global impact on human health through ISS.”
ISS is a project carried out by the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Biotechnology, in addition to which it has businesses as well as academic research groups and consortia as partners.
The innovation is based on research in cell biology. The mission of the laboratory of the Institute of Biotechnology is to seek new drug development targets by means of chemical and structural biology.
“We employ state-of-the-art techniques, and develop them further. I personally use the term ‘discovery science’. Our academic research is very innovative. Our approach is fairly multidisciplinary, and we collaborate a lot with, for example, specialists in chemistry, machine learning and structural biology,” Paavilainen notes.
A large share of projects are carried out in collaboration with partners around the world.
Without a solid research base, innovation is impossible.
“All key innovations stem from research, and new discoveries always require basic research.”
The optimisation of the industrial production of therapeutic proteins is currently a substantial bottleneck in drug development.
The screening solution developed in the ISS project makes it possible to quickly identify effective production constructs. The technical solution benefits both small- and large-scale developers of therapeutic or diagnostic proteins as well as producers of generic therapeutic proteins.
The market value of monoclonal antibodies, a single category of therapeutic proteins, exceeds $200 billion.
We are looking for investors with expertise in startups in the field of drug development and diagnostics as well as in the commercialisation of inventions.
Katja Rosti, commercialisation specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org, +358 50 573 4841