News - January 16, 2020

Innovation grant for medicine makers

Albert Sikkema

Christian Südfeld, a PhD candidate in the Bioprocess Engineering group, and his supervisors have received the first Road to Innovation grant from WUR. They are developing a new process for the production of pharmaceutical proteins.

©Christian Sudfeld

Südfeld studies microalgae. In his PhD research, he looks for tools to genetically engineer the algae to produce more fats. As part of that quest, Südfeld explored ways to efficiently express genes from other organisms for fat production in the microalgae. ‘During this investigation we found a new biotechnological route for this,’ says the PhD student. The new process let him achieve much greater levels of productivity for the desired proteins. What is more, the researchers found the new expression system worked in yeast too.

The team will now use the grant to see whether this process can function in mammalian cell cultures. These cell cultures could be used to produce medicines in a biotechnological process. If this is successful, Südfeld and his supervisors Rene Wijffels, Sarah D’Adamo, Maria Barbosa and Dirk Martens want to launch a spin-off.

They are the first WUR researchers to receive a Road to Innovation grant. The jury judged their system to be ‘technically of a very high standard’ and said it ‘has huge potential commercially’. WUR introduced the scheme last September. Two other applications are currently being evaluated. WUR’s intention is that the grants — 25,000 or 50,000 euros — should promote value creation. Researchers can use the money to explore possible applications for their scientific knowledge and find out who the potential customers and users are.