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Synthetic biology and GMP biologics manufacturing for chemicals and bioproducts
UK-based Ingenza is rapidly developing its business in synthetic biology engineering strains for industrial chemical products, as well as its capabilities in GMP biologics manufacturing and bioprocess development. In an exclusive interview, company president Ian Fotheringham describes how collaborative projects with major industrial partners are driving the company’s technology development and its business in these areas.
Tom Mulligan: How did Ingenza first recognise the market and technology opportunities it has been exploiting and what actually led to the founding of the company? Was the potential for combining the various technologies a major factor in establishing the company? And following on from that, how was the team put together?
Ian Fotheringham: We developed the concept for the company in 2002 and Ingenza was founded in 2003 based on the recognition that there was an opportunity to establish a business based on technology explored
earlier by Monsanto for microbial production of unnatural amino acids and amines. The idea was to exploit this technology by modifying the production methods and the enzymes employed in order to give better product yields and product purities. At the time there was a strong potential market for chiral intermediates based on unnatural amino acids and amines for use in pharmaceutical ingredient synthesis.
Ingenza initially inlicensed similar technology from one of the UK’s leading pharmaceutical companies, which was being developed with Edinburgh University. We then started to
exploit the technology for the commercial development of a much broader range of compounds. We took on new staff at graduate and PhD level, including molecular biologists, fermentation scientists and process chemists, and hired Ian Archer, formerly of Avecia, to head up the process chemistry department. The result was the development of a number of enzymatic processes for the production of new chiral pharmaceutical intermediates based on these three core competencies: molecular biology, fermentation and process chemistry. This created a viable business developing its own enabling technologies and new biocatalytic methods for the production of important pharmaceutical intermediates and ingredients, which remained our business model up to about 2005. We produced target molecules for fine chemical and pharmaeutical end users on an FTE basis and outlicensed the technology to these partners for them to apply in industrial scale-up procedures. We did retain some compounds in-house which we were able to scale up through our commercial alliance with Richmond Chemical Corporation, but we mostly worked with major fine chemical companies and Big Pharma in Europe, Japan and the USA.
Ingenza: at the forefront of industrial biotechnology. 34 sp2 Inter-Active January/February 2012
By this stage we had built up our team into a group of about eight or nine people, and continued to ‘polish up’ the technology through the application of more enzymes and broader know-how, resulting in improved processes at lower cost. However, by then we had realised that biocatalytic production of unnatural amino acids and amines was rather a niche area and that not that many new drugs were emerging based on this chemistry. In addition, competition from low-cost chemical producing countries such as India
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