Advance Queensland research recipient develops novel platform of cell factories for complex proteins

Biopharmaceuticals are complex molecules produced through living cells or organisms and are mainly therapeutic proteins to treat life threatening diseases. They represent a significant and growing portion of the pharmaceutical market, with a project global market size of over $400 billion by 2025. 

The development and production of biopharmaceuticals involve complex and expensive processes, including genetic engineering, fermentation, and purification. These processes require specialised facilities, equipment, and expertise, which drive up the cost of production, and therefore make it expensive for patients to access. 

Dr Verónica Martínez from the University of Queensland is an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship recipient who is working to develop a novel platform to guide the design of cell factories for complex proteins.

Advance Queensland’s Industry Research Fellowship supports researchers to carry out studies that will benefit and have a positive impact for Queensland, and Dr Martínez’s research is an example of this. Dr Martínez received $360,000 in funding research over three years which will be put towards reducing the cost of biopharmaceutical production, enabling the affordability of treatments for serious diseases. 

Can you provide a short overview of your research project?

My project aims to develop a novel platform based on innovative automated systems to elucidate the features of a robust “living factory” for complex therapeutic proteins. This will enable the cost efficient manufacture of tomorrow’s lifesaving advanced therapies.

Why did you choose to research this?

Biopharmaceuticals provide solutions to treat many areas including cancer, autoimmune and infectious diseases. However, the cost is currently a barrier to access for patients in a global sense. With this project, I aim to contribute to make these advanced therapeutic products easily available to people who need it. The project aligns with my life objective of helping to improve people’s health. Moreover, being able to work in collaboration with industry doing translational research will make the final benefits of my work reach the community faster.

Who are you partnering with and why?

I am partnering with Patheon Biologics, a major international biopharmaceutical Contract Development and Manufacturing Organisation (CDMO), with established local operations as Australia’s first large contract manufacturer of biopharmaceuticals and the only one in Queensland producing these advanced drugs. The research project will benefit from the extensive expertise of Patheon Biologics as a leader in cGMP manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals. From 2014 onwards, Patheon Biologics Australia has produced more than 140 cGMP batches of therapeutic proteins at various large scale (250L to 2x2KL) for over 35 clients (APAC, USA/Canada, EU) representing more than 50 therapeutic proteins (approximately 12 per year since 2020) being technology transferred and currently employs more than 200 local people here in Brisbane. Therefore, the specialized know-how at Patheon Biologics will be crucial to this project to develop novel tools that can be successfully transferred into industry. 

How will the funding from Advance Queensland support you on your research journey?

The funding from Advance Queensland provides the opportunity to continue the research I am passionate about. I was at a turning point in my career, and open to the possibility to change my career path, potentially moving to industry. But with this funding, I can still do research in academia but work in close collaboration with industry. In short, the economic support from Advance Queensland will help to cement my career as a researcher.

What are you wanting to achieve in your research?

I want to get an overall understanding of the production machinery of the living cell factories that are used to make these products. This will involve technologies that make the process more productive and efficient. This knowledge will be used by the biopharmaceutical industry to engineer these cell factories to get the best performance possible, therefore increasing their productivity of therapeutic proteins. Consequently, we will be able to generate more therapeutic proteins to meet the growing demand for more complex therapeutic proteins using the same resources currently being used by industry.

How will your research benefit and assist Queenslanders?

This research aims to advance Patheon’s capabilities to produce more complex biopharmaceuticals at commercially viable yields, giving them a competitive advantage to attract more national and international biomedical businesses to access their contract manufacturing services. 
By bringing innovation and strengthening the advanced manufacturing capabilities of Queensland, the project will increase the export of high value therapeutic proteins and attract substantial foreign investment. Queenslanders will benefit from the creation of new high value, well paid, knowledge based jobs and will be positioned as the leading supplier of complex biopharmaceuticals in the region. More broadly, enabling large scale production of complex biotherapeutics will benefit Queenslanders by facilitating access to novel treatments for lifethreatening diseases, which will ultimately lead to improved quality and increase the life expectancy for people in the long term. 

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the 2022 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships program? 

I am really proud to be part of the selected group of researchers who were awarded the 2022 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships program, particularly because my project was selected amongst many other excellent projects. I will do my best to honour the fellowship program by achieving real research outcomes that benefit Queensland.

Last updated 27 Apr, 2023
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