Innovations


Stephen Mayfield

UCSD’s Steven Mayfield

Algae Collaboration Developing Therapeutic Proteins

Excerpted from Bruce V. Bigalow’s recent article in Xconomy.
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Scientists from Sapphire Energy, UCSD, Scripps, and Protelica, have demonstrated the feasibility of using algae to produce commercial levels of human therapeutic proteins that are currently being used to treat emphysema and other diseases, or are in clinical trials for use to boost the immune system.

“The bottom line from the study is that the algae expression platform is ready for prime time,” according to UC San Diego biologist Stephen Mayfield. “We can express a very high percentage of recombinant genes — at least as good as the best system out there — and they are soluble and bioactive.”

Chlamydomonas

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is used widely as a genetic model organism. The scientists in these studies said that the percentage of human proteins produced in their algal cultures that were properly folded in three dimensions was comparable to the fraction produced by mammalian cell cultures and much better than that produced by bacterial systems. And because algae generate their energy from sunlight and have relatively simple nutrient needs, they said the costs for using them at large scale to commercially produce human proteins should be much lower than for mammalian cell culture, which require expensive fermentation facilities.
With expected improvements in the ability to express proteins in algae, and the continued reduction in algal biomass cost associated with the large scale efforts to use algae for biofuel production, the scientists anticipate at least a ten-fold reduction in the costs over the next few years, which should make algal protein production the least expensive platform available. This reduced cost of goods, coupled with an ability to rapidly scale production in inexpensive bioreactors, suggests that algae may become an economically superior platform for therapeutic protein production in the future.

Mayfield says the findings substantiate that algae could dramatically cut the costs of making complex proteins, including interferons, antibodies, and growth factors that already are being used to treat cancer and other diseases. Such complex drugs are currently produced from mammalian or bacterial cells. Algae, though, is much less expensive to work with, and algae cells grow much more quickly—doubling in number every 12 hours.

“Obviously the scalability and cost of algae make the system attractive but, if you can’t make a high percentage of proteins, then costs don’t really matter that much,” says Mayfield, who led the study. The research, published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal, included scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), San Diego algae biofuels company Sapphire Energy, and Protelica, (previously known as ProtElix) a Hayward, CA-based startup that specializes in protein engineering. Mayfield joined UCSD in November from TSRI, where he had worked since 1987.

chlamydomonas

UC San Diego researchers found this alga, seen from the neck of this flask, can also produce human therapeutic proteins.

Mayfield said a few months ago that a factory that uses algae to produce biotechnology drugs would be significantly cheaper to build than a traditional facility, and drug production costs would be about 75 percent lower. He contends that pharmaceutical companies could use such savings to dramatically cut the costs of some drugs that now cost consumers tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The process the scientists used to genetically modify a garden-variety green algae known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, was not universally successful. Of seven proteins that the group selected, Mayfield says the algae expressed four at levels sufficient for commercial production. “No one is really sure why some protein express and other don’t — that’s just the way it goes in all expression systems, ours included,” Mayfield says.

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Flasks of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii are shaken in the UCSD laboratory to enhance growth

Mayfield, an expert in the genetics of algae, is a co-founder of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology and a scientific co-founder of Sapphire, which is developing algae-based biofuels with funding from Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, Arch Venture Partners, and others. According to Mayfield the researchers filed patents on the technology and Sapphire holds the license.

Two years ago, Sapphire acquired Rincon Pharmaceuticals, a biotech that Mayfield co-founded to commercialize his research—which included recombinant DNA techniques for inserting human genes into algae, prompting the cells to make human proteins. Mayfield hopes to launch an algae protein expression company this year to commercialize the system, “and will be out pitching this to venture groups in the next few months.” —A.I.M.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call 858-202-0492.

Photos: Beth Rasala, UCSD

Copyright ©2010 AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint this article in its entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeindustrymagazine.com.

FREE Algae News & Updates

Sign up to receive breaking A.I.M. updates!

From The A.I.M. Archives

— Refresh Page for More Choices
Cellana, Inc., with operations in San Diego and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, has announced that David Anton, Ph.D., has been appointed Chief Operating Officer and elected to the ...
Montague, Prince Edward Island-based Solarvest has announced that it has used its algal-based production platform to express bioactive therapeutic proteins. The proof of ...
Sebastian Rich reports on PBS Newshour about the Central African Republic city of Bangui, which has been caught in the crossfire between warring Muslim and Christian grou...
Jeff Gelski writes in foodbusinessnews.net that algae oil is now in the toolbox of alternative oils shown to replace partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which cause trans...
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing an early warning indicator system using historical and current satellite data to detect algal blooms. EPA res...
Five years ago, on April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig caused a release of 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was ca...
SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk reports that Indian scientists working on producing biofuel from algae cultured in municipal wastewater are enthused by the findings of a rec...
The vision of developing a community college degree program to train a high technology algae workforce was launched at New Mexico's Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) in 2...
There are around 4500 dairy farms in Victoria, Australia, according to Business Victoria. Together they produced about 86 per cent of Australia’s dairy product exports, w...
The fully automated plant at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP in Leuna, Germany, was designed to produce microalgae at industrial scale. ...
Joule has announced the issuance of a patent on the direct, continuous production of hydrocarbon fuels — extending its ability to target the highest-value molecules of th...
Using microalgae to capture CO2 is a complex process, especially in flue gas environments, reports an editorial by IEA Clean Coal Centre in worldcoal.com. There are many ...
Natacha Tatu writes in Worldcrunch about a 72-year old French chef who has taken on the challenge of bringing spirulina to the malnourished youth of the Central Africa. F...
In Japan, the Algae Biomass Energy System Development Research Center, headed by Professor Makoto Watanabe, was established at the University of Tsukuba on July 1. The ne...
Scientists have been investigating the likely future impact of changing environmental conditions on ocean phytoplankton, which forms the basis of all the oceans' food cha...