NSERC awards Plantform and Guelph scientist with Engage Grant

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grants PlantForm Corporation and a University of Guelph scientist a $25,000 Engage Grant.

The funding will advance research by Dr. Lewis Lukens who is focused on understanding and limiting defense mechanisms in host plants with the goal of increasing the yield of target proteins produced in PlantForm’s vivoXPRESS manufacturing process.

The high-yield, low-cost vivoXPRESS system uses tobacco plants infiltrated with Agrobacterium to express target proteins for development of biologic medicines and vaccines to treat cancer, inflammatory diseases and other life-threatening or debilitating conditions. Although the process uses non-virulent strains, infiltration with Agrobacterium triggers defense responses in the plants that can limit the yield of the desired proteins.

The $25,000 Engage Grant will support research aimed at providing a comprehensive analysis of small RNA molecules (sRNA) generated in response to Agrobacterium infiltration and how they impact protein expression.

“Small RNAs (sRNAs) are known to play a role in plant defense and gene silencing,” says Lukens, an associate professor in Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture and a leading expert in bioinformatics and quantitative genetics. “The goal of this research is to identify and quantify sRNAs generated in response to Agrobacterium infiltration and transient transgene expression, and to investigate if production of specific sRNA correlate with transgene expression and protein production.”

The project will help PlantForm continue to advance and improve the vivoXPRESS platform. On a commercial scale, a 10 per cent increase in the production of therapeutic proteins can result in millions of dollars in additional cost savings or revenue for the company.

“We’re very pleased to be working with Dr. Lukens and his team to develop methods to suppress transgene silencing and increase yields of recombinant proteins,” says Dr. Don Stewart, PlantForm’s president and CEO. “This project will generate novel insights into the role of sRNA in protein expression and further advance PlantForm’s strategy to make life-saving medications available at much lower cost.”

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