News and Events: PPiB students visit biotechnology companies

PPiB students regularly organize visits to biotechnology companies. During  Fall semesters of 2014, 2015 and 2016 students had several trips to Celltex Therapeutics, Houston, TX, Lonza Inc., Houston, TX, iBio CMO, LLC, Bryan, TX, and FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas, LLC, College Station, TX.

PPiB students visited iBio CMO, LLC in October, 2016.  iBio CMO, a subsidiary of iBio Inc., is a plant-made pharmaceutical company located in Bryan, TX. iBio Inc. owns and uses a technology that enables production of recombinant therapeutic proteins in plants using a transient expression system. Its proprietary expression technology allows for the rapid and scalable production of target proteins, which may be used for manufacturing of both vaccines and biotherapeutics. This technology has several benefits, which include the ability to produce proteins in a flexible and rapid manner, economically, and using a human pathogen-free process. The process begins by engineering plant expression vectors that contain the target sequence. The vector is then mobilized into Agrobacterium, which has the capability of transferring the target DNA into plant cells during the plant Agro-infiltration procedure. The plant translation machinery is then hijacked to produce the protein of interest. After 6 to 8 days post Agro-infiltration, the protein of interest is finally extracted and purified.

Dr. Sylvian Marcel, a senior scientist at iBio CMO, provided students with a brief presentation on the challenges of large-scale manufacturing of plant-made pharmaceuticals, where he talked about the successes of the iBio technology and the challenges that must be overcome to expand production to manufacturing scale. iBio CMO is housed in a 140,000 square foot facility, which has the capacity to produce up to 300 kg of pure monoclonal antibodies per year. One specific challenge of plant-made pharmaceuticals is that the FDA is less familiar with them. To date, only one plant-made drug, Elelyso, has been approved by the FDA. However, Dr. Marcel explained that the outlook for this technology is great due to the fact that plants also undergo eukaryote post-translational modifications (i.e. N-glycosylation), making this approach more cost-effective than mammalian cell-based manufacturing while remaining human-pathogen free.

Dr. Marcel took students on a journey through the novel (and glowing – thanks to the red and blue LED lights) iBio CMO facility. The tour was tailored similarly to that of how plant-made pharmaceuticals are produced. Students started in the warehouse and storage facility and progressed toward the mechanized planting and transplanting area and large grow rooms. Plants are stacked in 14-level growth racks, where they are grown hydroponically under precisely controlled LED lighting. After 5 weeks of growth, plants are infiltrated with the vector-containing Agrobacteria in large cylindrical tubes. Then, infiltrated plants are allowed to produce proteins for about 6 to 8 days until they are harvested, after which the proteins extracted and purified. The tour ended in the quality control lab, which generates essential checkpoints throughout the protein production process, releases the final product, and conducts stability studies.

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