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Yeast can be engineered to create protein pharmaceuticals

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It took several years, but a research team headed by Professor Jens Nielsen at Chalmers University of Technology has finally succeeded in mapping out the complex metabolism of yeast cells. The breakthrough, recently published in an article in Nature Communications, means a huge step forward in the potential to more efficiently produce protein therapies for diseases such as cancer.

It took several years, but a research team headed by Professor Jens Nielsen at Chalmers University of Technology has finally succeeded in mapping out the complex metabolism of yeast cells. The breakthrough, recently published in an article in Nature Communications, means a huge step forward in the potential to more efficiently produce protein therapies for diseases such as cancer.

The market for pharmaceuticals that mimic the body’s own proteins – protein-based therapeutics – is exploding. Some of them are relatively simple to manufacture in yeast-based cell factories. Insulin and HPV vaccine are two examples that are already under production, but other therapies, such as antibodies to various forms of cancer, are significantly more difficult to manufacture.

“They are currently produced using a cell factory based on a single cell from a Chinese hamster. It’s an extremely expensive process. If we can get yeast cells to do the same thing, it will be significantly cheaper – perhaps 10% of what it costs today. Our vision is to eventually be able to mass-produce and supply the entire world with therapies that are too expensive for many countries today,” says Jens Nielsen, professor of systems biology.

In collaboration with Associate Professor Dina Petrovic and Mathias Uhlén’s research team at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Jens Nielsen has been mapping out the complex metabolism of yeast cells for four years.

Read more at Chalmers University of Technology

Image: In the engineered yeast to the right the cell damages are fewer (light areas), an indication that protein production is improved.

Image Credit: Chalmers University of Technology