This summer has been a busy time for Progenesis in hiring new personnel, setting up budgets with the awarding of the Phase II NIH SBIR grant and refining our R&D plans.
Research and Development Progress
In ramping up the R&D, especially with new personnel, it was necessary to revalidate the authenticity of the PGN strains develop by Dr. Ryan Withers when he was with the company. This has now been accomplished. Also, to conserve time and effort we decided to out-source the synthesis of the genetic tools we need for our work. The
company we chose is GenScripts and after sending them the “blueprints” they send us the finished products within 2-3 weeks, with a guarantee of accuracy. We have just placed an order for the genetic tools we need to delete a gene crucial for causing infections by our PGN4 strain of Pseudomonas bacteria. In the same order are genetic
tools to delete genes responsible for modifying the alginate so that we can produce an alginate biopolymer that is identical to seaweed alginate.
While the tools are being made for the gene “knockouts” described above, we have been exploring ways to improve the purity of the bacterial alginate that we isolate from the media we use to grow the bacteria. A major contaminant of the alginate in our current processing scheme is protein. This is due in large part to the requirement to supply some source of protein in the media in order for the bacteria to grow. We currently use a product called peptone. The problem is that when we add ethanol to the media to precipitate the alginate, the protein also precipitates. However, Brandon Kirby who we hired as a full-time technician in May of 2017, noticed that the protein precipitates and the alginate precipitates had different physical characteristics. He devised a differential two-step precipitation method that greatly reduced the amount of protein in the alginate sample. The amount of protein in a defined weight of the
bacterial alginate is very close to the level of protein found in the same weight of sample from commercial seaweed alginate. Brandon also found that we could reduce the amount of peptone (protein) by 25% without a major reduction in the growth of the bacteria. Therefore, reducing the amount of protein added to the growth media together
with the differential ethanol precipitation method should provide a simple, cost-effective means of addressing the protein contamination problem.
One of our new hires, Dr. Meagan Valentine (see more about Meagan in the Business Development section), has been working on a pilot project to determine whether a small piece of protein known as a peptide having potential therapeutic activity, could be produced in large quantities by bacteria. This work is being underwritten by Dean
Shapiro. Meagan has expertise in a technique called Western blotting that can detect whether the peptide is being made and secreted by the bacterial cells. This work is still in progress.
Business Development Progress
After a three-month national and regional search for a genetic engineer, we hired Dr. Meagan Valentine. Meagan received her PhD from Marshall’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate program. Her advisor was Dr. Simon Collier, a noted expert in developmental genetics and Drosophila (fruit fly) genetics. Dr. Valentine had a broadening experience when Dr. Collier left Marshall to accept a faculty position at Cambridge University in England. Meagan spent about 6 months in Cambridge finishing her work with Dr. Collier. Since graduating Dr. Valentine has been teaching at both BridgeValley Community and MountWest Community Colleges, but wanted to return to research, so
she was an excellent fit for our position.
Dr. Yu and I attended the 2017 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology held in Montreal, Canada July 23 – 26. One of the unique features of this meeting is the oneon-one partnering sessions that can be scheduled during this event. Progenesis met with 15 different companies, including such names and DuPont and Cargill. We are following up with these companies through email and phone conferences. Cargill requested a power point presentation to assess our technology.
Progenesis has applied for the NIH CAP (Commercialization Accelerator Program) that is only available to NIH-funded SBIR Phase II awardees. The NIH contracts this program to the Larta Institute in Los Angeles, CA. The objective is to help participants develop and engage an action plan and strategy for commercialization. These goals are achieved through personalized one-on-one mentoring and through market connections. The Larta Institute has a national reputation for core work in commercialization of R&D, especially from government-sponsored research. Since 2004 when this program started, 996M+ has been raised by NIH CAP companies, around 1300 term sheets have been signed and 40 companies have been acquired. Their Advisory Board includes companies such as P&G, GE, Lilly, Cargill, Dow, and
Pfizer. Although most of the mentoring is accomplished virtually i.e. tele-and videoconferences, attendance at a Commercialization Training Workshop in Los Angeles, CA and a Presentation Session in Washington, DC is required. The acceptance rate is ~60% of applicants and the selected companies will be announced in mid-late September. If accepted, we believe that this program will be of significant benefit for the development and success of Progenesis.
For the next quarter, we will hold a meeting of our Advisory Board to review both the business, financial and R&D progress of Progenesis. We will also exchange nondisclosure agreements with two organizations that have capability for scale-up of the bacterial alginate production. On the R&D front, we will knock out the genes for
acetylation of alginate thus making it identical to seaweed alginate and we will test our avirulent PGN5 strain in male and female mice.
We again thank you for the interest and confidence you have shown in Progenesis. It has been an interesting journey; being novices in the business arena, we made some mistakes, but have learned from them and Progenesis in now poised for its best chance to achieve commercialization. Our next newsletter will be in early December. In the mean-time you can follow Progenesis’ updates and blogs on our Progenesis LinkedIn or Dick Niles’ LinkedIn pages.
Richard M Niles, PhD
Chief Operating Office and Co-Founder
Hongwei Yu, PhD
Chief Science Office and Co-Founder