College, biotech company work to create a plant-based drug which can treat cancer patients post-chemotherapy
A new applied research collaboration between Mohawk College and Solar Grants Biotechnology Inc. (SBG Inc.) is exploring how plants can be used to create affordable, eco-friendly recombinant proteins for medical usage.
Cancer patients often face a lowered immune system after receiving chemotherapy. Recombinant proteins, specifically the human granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), are used for the treatment of myelosuppression and leukopenia (low levels of white blood cells) in these patients.
“This project will have the ability to make a real impact on the healthcare industry,” says Igor Kolotilin, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at SGB Inc. "By producing a generic, potentially life-saving drug in engineered tobacco plants, we're hoping also to alter the general negative public perception of tobacco plants and showcase them as prolific, cost-effective and eco-friendly bioreactors.”
SBG Inc., based in London, Ont., has developed state-of-the-art engineered tobacco plant lines that express and accumulate various recombinant proteins, including a plant-produced version of G-CSF. In order to further commercialize their product, they will collaborate with Mohawk College biotechnology researcher Dr. Tiffany Leighton and a team of student researchers. Their goal is to investigate the performance of the plant-produced G-CSF, in comparison with commercially available E. coli-derived human G-CSF, on combating low levels of white blood cells in both mouse and human leukemia cell lines.
“This project is very exciting. Not only are we are turning plants into pharmaceutical biofactories, but we are also working on a medically relevant drug that is currently used to support cancer patients after receiving chemotherapy,” said Tiffany Leighton, Ph.D. “We are thrilled to be able to showcase our knowledge and skills here at Mohawk College. We believe this will be a very successful collaboration.”
The project will be supported by funding from the Canadian Bio-Cleantech Applied Research Network (CBARN), of which Mohawk College is a founding member. Established in 2022, with support from the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), CBARN supports small- to medium-sized bio-based companies by providing access to research and innovation services. The network aims to support the development of new and optimization of existing biotechnologies with the goal of generating advanced commercialization and job growth in the sector.
“We are grateful for the support of FedDev Ontario for this applied research project,” said Andrea Johnson, General Manager of the Centre for Emerging Research Initiatives. “Through our collaboration with SBG Inc., we’re able to advance innovation in clean biotech, and create meaningful research and learning opportunities for Mohawk College students working on this project.”