Ginkgo Awarded DARPA Contract to Reimagine the Manufacturing of Complex Therapeutic Proteins

We’re pleased to share that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that we have been awarded a 4-year contract worth up to $18 million to reimagine how to manufacture complex therapeutic proteins.

As a performer on DARPA’s Reimagining Protein Manufacturing (RPM) project, we aim to deliver revolutionary advances in on-demand protein manufacturing by leveraging Cell-Free Protein Synthesis (CFPS) to enable rapid, high-yield, distributed production of human therapeutic proteins that support national security objectives. We will lead a team comprising representatives from Imperial College London, led by Prof. Paul Freemont, Nature’s Toolbox, Inc., led by Alex Koglin, and consultant Michael Feldhaus (former Executive VP of Antibody Discovery at Adimab).

There is growing recognition that pharmaceutical supply chains are at risk. One way to meet this challenge is distributed manufacturing at the point of care. Imagine a future where drugs, including complex biologics, are produced locally or in a widely distributed manner on-demand. We’re very excited to be working with DARPA to make that future a reality.

Replacing cell-based methods with cell-free methods

Therapeutic proteins bearing so-called “post-translational modifications,” such as antibodies, cytokines, and clotting factors are particularly important in the marketplace and to DARPA, as are subunit and conjugate vaccines. Half of the top-selling drugs used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases are such therapeutic proteins; many are also used as medical countermeasures to treat or prevent disease, injury, or death related to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats. Through this program, we hope to transform how therapeutic proteins are made, replacing cell-based methods with cell-free methods. Traditional centralized, large-scale manufacturing methods have usually sufficed, but increasingly there are use cases where rapid distributed or on-demand manufacturing is needed, such as supplying of therapeutic proteins to geographically isolated locales, providing hospitals and clinics with point-of-need rapid production of medicines from common precursors, and improving our ability to mount rapid and targeted responses to natural or man-made biological threats and emergencies.

Traditional production methods rely on weeks- to months-long construction of bespoke cellular organisms that have been engineered to produce the desired therapeutic protein during days-long fermentation processes. Even with standardized methods, it typically takes months to achieve the first useful production of a biological drug. Post-expression isolation and purification are equally challenging: each unique process is costly and time-consuming to develop.

Enabling the rapid prototyping of enzymes for diverse therapeutic and nontherapeutic projects

Cell-Free Protein Synthesis (CFPS), by contrast, brings the key advantages of greater speed and flexibility than cell- and fermentation-based production. Significant improvements are needed to make CFPS competitive with traditional therapeutic protein production, however, primarily with respect to efficiency and the identity and homogeneity of post-translational modifications. In this program, we seek to address these challenges and hope to enable the rapid prototyping of enzymes and other proteins for diverse therapeutic and nontherapeutic projects. One aim of the project is to create production methods that are compatible with Good Manufacturing Practices, thereby facilitating adoption by the pharmaceutical industry.

We will leverage innovative technologies enabled by our high-throughput, automated Foundry and our proprietary genetic data Codebase, a portfolio of reusable biological assets which includes more than one billion proprietary gene sequences. Our synthetic biology platform, coupled with our extensive expertise in iterative Design–Build–Test–Learn-driven biological engineering, enables the rapid prototyping, optimization, and development of proteins, enzymes, metabolic pathways, and whole organisms under commercial-scale manufacturing conditions processes.

Find the full press release here along with all of the latest news from the Ginkgo team.

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