The global recession is still prompting a lot of belt tightening. Patients and healthcare payers are looking for ways to cut costs, and drugmakers are trying to boost their manufacturing efficiencies. Developing countries naturally are feeling the squeeze more keenly. Budget constraints in those nations could keep patients from receiving necessary vaccines, which often are produced from recombinant proteins in a multistep process that is complicated and expensive.
Fortunately, researchers are developing alternative production methods that are simpler and more cost-effective. Julian Ihssen, of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, led a team that successfully glycosylated carrier proteins in Escherichia coli cultivated in 2.5-L or 3.5-L fed-batch bioreactors. The process yielded bioconjugates that are potential vaccines against shigellosis. The experiment represented the first large-scale production of glycosylated proteins in E. coli, the authors wrote in Microbial Cell Factories.
The researchers acknowledged, however, that time-space yields for glycoconjugates were still low, compared with methods that relied on recombinant proteins. But they proposed process modifications such as using alternative E. coli strains that could increase these yields. The scientists also suggested optimizing the sequence context of glycosylation sites in carrier proteins. Yet another technique could be to use protein engineering to improve functional expression or catalytic efficiency.
If further research increases glycoconjugate yields from E. coli, this production method could enable economically viable in vivo vaccine manufacture. That would be good news for manufacturers and patients in the developing world. But this potentially simpler production method ultimately could benefit people everywhere. It could bring the immediate gains of efficient production and lower costs, and it also could inspire the biopharmaceutical industry to pursue further manufacturing innovations.
If an economic crisis can spread worldwide, maybe the advances that help mitigate it can spread, too.