The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will be to advance the development of production for COVID-19 treatments. The COVID-19 pandemic is placing great strain on the supply chain for protein and antibody therapeutics and research products. Interferons represent a specific class of protein released in response to viral infections; they are currently being tested as important therapies to combat COVID-19 infections and to regulate the immune system. This project will develop a new system to produce and purify interferons using a new platform based on a plant system. No plant system has been utilized commercially to produce human interferons, due to product loss during purification from plant tissue. This system overcomes this challenge by secreting the proteins to leaf surfaces where they will easily be recovered. The rapid scalability of this plant-based system can allow fast production of COVID-19 therapeutics at high levels and lower cost than current protein expression systems.

The proposed Phase I project will develop a photosynthetic platform for the production of COVID-19 therapeutics, as current production strategies are expensive to scale and limited in production capacity. Plants will be generated that produce and secrete interferons for the purposes of large-scale production. Further research efforts will be performed to determine if newly-identified trichome-specific promoters, intron-mediated expression elements, and unique protein secretion signals that are cleaved during protein maturation can optimize and enhance the system for interferon production. Plant-made interferons will be tested for activity and compared against interferons generated in other biomanufacturing systems.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Phyllotech Inc.
United States
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