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Dartmouth, GlycoFi researchers make leap in protein bioengineering


Investigators at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the biotechnology firm GlycoFi, Inc., report a breakthrough in using yeast to produce antibodies with human sugar structures.

Antibodies are proteins with sugars attached to them, and they are emerging as a major class of drugs in the treatment of cancer. In the global effort to increase the potency of antibodies, the interdisciplinary work by the Dartmouth/GlycoFi team, published in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology, represents a major advance. The work shows that antibodies with increased cancer-killing ability can be produced by controlling the sugar structures that are attached to them.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that an antibody with human sugar structures can be produced in a non-mammalian host," says Tillman Gerngross, GlycoFi’s Chief Scientific Officer and professor of engineering at Dartmouth’s Thayer School.

Huijuan Li, the Associate Director of Analytical Development at GlycoFi and the lead author on the study, adds, "By controlling the sugar structures on antibodies we have shown that the antibodies ability to kill cancer cells can be significantly improved and that proteins can be optimized by controlling their sugar structures."

While the current report focuses on antibodies, the approach taken by the GlycoFi team can be applied to any therapeutic glycoprotein. Currently glycoproteins comprise about 70 percent of all approved therapeutic proteins and the therapeutic protein market is expected to grow at over 20 percent annually over the next decade, according to the researchers.

"GlycoFi is the world leader in protein glyco-engineering, and this work is an example of the exciting translational research that has been spun out of Dartmouth," says Gerngross.

GlycoFi was founded in 2000 by Dartmouth professors Gerngross and Charles Hutchison, professor emeritus of engineering and CEO of GlycoFi. The company continues to maintain its Dartmouth ties, and it is engaged in several ongoing collaborations with Dartmouth faculty. Gerngross says that the environment at Dartmouth is exceptional for bioengineers that seek to take basic life science discoveries and translate them into technologies that benefit patients.

Sue Knapp | EurekAlert!
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