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GlycoBac Receives NIH Grant to Expand Research of Glycoprotein Drugs

April 1, 2014
Man working in lab
Christoph Geisler, GlycoBac’s chief research scientist, conducts cell culture research in a molecular biology lab in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. GlycoBac recently received a $150,000 SBIR grant from the National Institutes of Health for research to improve the effectiveness of glycoprotein drugs that can potentially help diabetes and cancer patients.

A University of Wyoming spin-out business has received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to improve the effectiveness of drugs that can potentially help diabetes and cancer patients.

GlycoBac will use the six-month grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research to improve the effectiveness of already developed glycoprotein drugs.

The overall effectiveness of many small protein drugs is reduced as they are quickly filtered out by the kidneys, says Christoph Geisler, GlycoBac’s chief research scientist. One way to prevent or reduce that filtering effect is to increase the size of the protein by attaching a large biocompatible polymer to it.

“This is currently done by using an elaborate chemical process. We’re developing a much simpler method that, right away, adds the polymer to the protein as it is synthesized. We want to increase the time it (drug) can be in your body,” Geisler says. “It could have applications in human and veterinary medicine. It’s another way to make small protein drugs more effective.”

For example, long-term diabetes patients have problems producing EPO, or erythropoietin, that controls red blood cell production. That’s because diabetes negatively affects the kidneys, which produce EPO.

“If your body can’t make its own EPO anymore,” recombinant EPO made with our new process could help by being in one’s system longer than currently available EPO, Geisler says. “EPO is also used for cancer patients in chemotherapy.”

There also are potential veterinary applications. For example, some dogs have thyroid conditions. One treatment for that is hormone replacement with a small protein drug called thyroid stimulating hormone, Geisler says.

In the past, the company’s research focused on efforts to make insect cells produce proteins with attached sugars similar to those made by human cells, Geisler says.

“For this SBIR project, we’ll make insect cells use existing sugars and extend them, use them as a scaffold, to add a biopolymer called polysialic acid,” Geisler says. “We’re building on our prior research with insect cells, but we’re taking a new direction.”

Additionally, the proposed technology could be used for other more conventional protein drug production platforms, such as mammalian cells, Geisler says.

GlycoBac’s goals are to continue to find ways to produce glycoprotein drugs using insect cells. In February 2012, the company -- founded by Don Jarvis, a UW professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, and Geisler, a former UW student who received his doctoral degree in molecular biology -- created a licensing agreement with UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development. The licensing agreement allowed Jarvis and Geisler to commercialize certain aspects of their research, which involved the use of genetically engineered insect cells for manufacturing vaccines, diagnostics or therapeutics for use in human and veterinary medicine.

GlycoBac uses the technology to create new genetically engineered insect cell lines optimized for this purpose. Those lines are broadly offered throughout the biotechnology community as a new biologics manufacturing platform.

Biologics are a class of protein-based drugs that include vaccines, diagnostic testing agents, and therapeutics, such as high-value cancer-fighting antibodies and proteins, which can be used to treat genetic diseases, including diabetes and anemia.

Jarvis and Geisler started GlycoBac in summer 2011 after winning UW’s John P. Ellbogen $30K Entrepreneurship Competition. After using their $12,500 award from the competition to establish the company, the two, together with ParaTechs Corp, submitted a proposal to NIH for a Phase II SBIR grant.

ParaTechs is a Lexington, Ky.-based company that developed technology designed to increase production levels, while GlycoBac has developed technology designed to increase product quality in insect cell-based manufacturing systems.

GlycoBac and ParaTechs received an NIH grant for more than $1 million in April 2012 to be used over a two-year period. Each company received about half the funding to conduct its own research.

This latest NIH grant will pay for salaries, materials and supplies, says Geisler, who works on the project with Ajay Maghodia, a scientist with international experience in insect cell research.

Geisler says preliminary data show this latest research is likely to work and be effective.

“This Phase I (funding) will allow us to see whether some kinks need to be worked out,” Geisler says.

If successful, Geisler says GlycoBac will apply for an NIH Phase II grant -- worth upwards of $1 million -- to continue this research.

Hear chief research scientist Christoph Geisler describe a new process that can improve the production of drugs that can potentially help diabetes and cancer patients.Hear chief research scientist Christoph Geisler describe a new process that can improve the production of drugs that can potentially help diabetes and cancer patients.

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