UK-based biotechnology firm Biotica Technology and the University of Cambridge have secured funding for a collaborative research initiative into new expression systems for the production of polyketides.
Polyketides are naturally occurring drug-like molecules, formed by microorganisms in the soil, that constitute the biggest source of natural product-based therapeutics. The antibiotics erythromycin and tetracycline and anti-tumour agents doxorubicin and epothilone all come from this class, which is second only to the penicillins in terms of their importance as naturally-derived medicines.
The new programme will try to establish a number of host strains for more efficient polyketide production as well as vectors to transfer the sequences coding for the polyketides into the host cells. The primary aim is to expand the diversity of polyketides that can be produced and used in drug discovery efforts, although the programme could also lead to new ways to manufactur these drugs using bacterial fermentation.
Biotica's technology is said to be capable of generating novel polyketide structures which are inaccessible by other methods.
The £1.0 million (€1.45m) project is part-funded by an award from the UK Department of Trade and Industry and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The research effort is being led by Professor Peter Leadlay, professor of Molecular Enzymology and one of the original scientific founders of Biotica.
"My research group has been exploring fundamental problems in obtaining high level expression of genes that govern natural production of polyketide drugs," he explained. "The collaboration with Biotica promises not only a rapid translation of those findings into industrial application, but also will give us access to a really powerful molecular biological toolkit they are developing."
Sales of polyketides are about $20 billion, rivalling the total sales of protein therapeutics.