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Improved candidate screening through tailored co-culture assays and precise tuning of protein expression

Time: Fri 2024-06-14 10.00

Location: Q2, Malvinas väg 10, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Biotechnology

Doctoral student: Gustav Aniander , Proteinteknologi

Opponent: Docent Mats Persson,

Supervisor: Professor Johan Rockberg, Proteinteknologi; Doktor Magdalena Malm, Proteinteknologi, Wallenberg Center for Protein Research; Doktor Niklas Thalén, Proteinteknologi; Professor Fredrik Frejd,

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QC 2024-05-21


The field of biopharmaceuticals is a rapidly growing one. In the last ten years the number of approved biopharmaceuticals has more than doubled. A major hurdle to overcome for increased availability of all the new, effective biopharmaceuticals is the cost of treatment. Much of this can be attributed to the sheer time required for their development. Owing to this, interest in improvements to the biopharmaceuticals and their development process has also rapidly increased. As costs increase the further into development a drug candidate progresses, increasing the fidelity of screening at early stages could alleviate some of the exorbitant costs of development.

In paper I, we showcase a novel way of targeting the tumor microenvironment (TME) to allow for TMElocalized CD40 activation. This is of interest as CD40 agonists have shown great potential for immune activation, but with systemic activation leading to severe adverse effects. The localized activation is achieved through the construction of an affinity fusion protein termed an AffiMab through fusion of a platelet derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFRβ) targeting affibody to the heavy chain of a CD40 agonistic monoclonal antibody (mAb). We demonstrate PDGFRβ-dependent activation in a variety of assays, showing that the approach merits further investigation.

Building on the activation assays set up in paper I, we aim to generate an in vitro screening platform for immune cell engagers in paper II. Screening candidates for on-target off-tumor activation is essential, as such activation would lead to adverse effects and be a doselimiting factor. To screen for this, we construct a series of plasmids which upon transfecting cells allow for different levels of a cell-surface target protein to be expressed, a so-called target density panel. This is achieved through the use of hairpin forming elements in the 5’ untranslated region of the mRNA dubbed regulatory elements (RgEs). Through use of different RgEs, we show that a target density panel can be generated and validate it in activation assays with the AffiMab developed in paper I. The platforms’ uniform cell surface background due to all different levels of target being expressed in the same host cell line and tunability through use of different RgEs are features that make it interesting for further research.

Finally in paper III, we construct and test an improved translation initiation site (TIS) sequence. Using previous studies on the impact of the nucleotides in the sequence on the efficacy of the TIS, we constructed a novel sequence, TISNOV. This sequence enhanced titer and quality for recombinant production of IgG1 and IgG4 in both stable and transient settings. Further research into other TIS sequences and their uses in regulating protein expression, as well as usage of the TISNOV to improve expression of difficult to express proteins such as bispecifics remain interesting.

In conclusion this thesis focuses on different manners to improve and hasten development of new biopharmaceuticals through usage of new workflows, platforms, and genetic engineering strategies.