February 15, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 4)
Novoprotein Opens U.S. Office to Service Its International Customers More Effectively
Novoprotein Scientific was among the early contract manufacturers of recombinant proteins, according to Huaxing Zhu, Ph.D., president and CEO. Dr. Zhu started Novoprotein in 2004 when he saw a growing demand for protein expression, purification, and production services. The company has expanded and now also produces and sells 500 off-the-shelf cytokines and recombinant protein products for research and manufacturing.
Novoprotein’s headquarters are located in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai. Two state-of-the-art production facilities that occupy 25,000 square feet are also in China, and last year, Novoprotein opened a business development office in Short Hills, New Jersey.
Novoprotein has made an effort at distinguishing itself from other contract research organizations (CROs) that make recombinant proteins. The company reports that it was the first protein manufacturing facility set up in China.
After seven years in the business, “we have the most experience in all four expression systems—mammalian cells, yeast, baculovirus/insect, and E. coli expression systems,” says Yufang Shao, Ph.D., vice president and head of the New Jersey office.
Novoprotein’s success rate for protein manufacturing is 85%, based on more than 1,000 contracted projects, according to Dr. Shao.
“Most people are happy with a 60% success rate,” she points out. She explains that Novoprotein researchers engineered an expression vector that guarantees high yields of up to hundreds of milligrams per liter of a client’s desired protein produced in mammalian cells.
Novoprotein officials say that they are flexible when it comes to the starting materials that clients bring to them. Some CROs can only start with certain materials or in a certain stage of production in order to guarantee a risk-free package, says Dr. Shao.
“We are willing to start at any point and with any materials,” she adds, such as a client’s own expression vectors or stable cell lines. Novoprotein customizes the production of each protein depending on its unique characteristics.
“We listen to the protein and read between the lines to what the protein is saying, and then we adjust protocols and strategies to make a successful product,” says Dr. Shao.
Novoprotein also specializes in isotope labeling of proteins with nitrogen (15N) and carbon (13C).
Uniform isotope labeling is a key tool for NMR studies of recombinant protein interactions with ligands of pharmaceutical interest. Isotope labeling is a tough technique because most labeled proteins are expressed in E. coli cells and must be grown in minimal media. This results in low protein yields.
The secret recipe at Novoprotein uses a fortified minimal media that allows cells to grow normally and produce higher yields of proteins. The method lowers the cost of making large amounts of uniformly labeled recombinant proteins, says Dr. Shao.
Novoprotein also focuses on making off-the-shelf protein products, according to company officials. Among the offerings in its catalog are cytokines, enzymes, and diagnostic and detection reagents.
A special line of Highlight products includes recombinant human complement factor B, a series of proneurotrophins, and human CD 47. These products are particularly challenging to make and express in their active forms, notes Dr. Shao. For example, pro-BDNF must form precise dimers to be active in bioassays, she explains.
The company continues to work on discovering and purifying new protein products. In its pipeline is Y136, a glycoprotein that neutralizes interferon type I and type III. “It’s a very powerful compound,” emphasizes Dr. Shao. Y136 was discovered by Sergei Kotenko, Ph.D., at the New Jersey Medical School, and Novoprotein scientists are helping to purify it.