By Cocoon Bioscience CEO - Josh Robinson
A few months back, we spoke about the innovation around the Cocoon platform – which leverages insects as natural bioreactors for protein production – and how it helps address price bottlenecks at smaller scale production where microbial fermentation struggles, relatively speaking.
Microbial Fermentation, for all the amazing benefits it has provided society around the products it produces, also has another blind spot – there are proteins and enzymes that just can’t be made, recombinantly, via fermentation. Certain proteins and enzymes, like those that have complex post-translational modifications, those that exist as dimers, trimers, or n-, and those with activity that poisons their microbial host, just can’t be made, even though there exists a need in the world for them.
This is where we have seen the Cocoon platform shine. It turns out, these ‘impossible’ enzymes and proteins aren’t that impossible for an organism insect to make. Unlike a single-celled organism, in a multi-celled organism like an insect, there has evolved a cascade of systems to handle production of toxic compounds, post-translational modifications, and activation extracellular of proteins produced in an inactive form intracellular.
One recent example of this is Transforming Growth Factor – Beta 1, or TGF-B1. This is a critical growth factor used in cellular media for cultivated meat production as well as cell therapy production – but it is a complex dimer protein that is produced in inactive form and then cleaved extracellularly to become active. The ‘usual suspects’ of hosts for microbial fermentation fail to produce the protein beyond minute quantities, making the availability scarce and the price astronomically high. But recently, we have found that we can make this protein on our Cocoon platform, with high activity and great productivity. We now have this product commercially available for sale, at pricing over an order of magnitude below where it has been traditionally and at scales several orders of magnitude larger.
This ability to make ‘impossible’ proteins and enzymes is something we want to continue to explore and challenge with our platform. We welcome the research community across academia and industry to bring us your challenge cases to put our platform to the test. Let’s see what new recombinant proteins and enzymes we can make together.