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Synpromics Ltd Team Up With GE Healthcare

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Synpromics is a leading developer of synthetic promoters for custom gene regulation. Founder and CSO, Dr. Michael Roberts (Above) tells us about their synthetic promoter technology and their new collaboration with GE Healthcare.

AT: Please could you give me an overview of Synpromics? 

MR: I founded Synpromics in 2010 to commercialize synthetic promoter technology that I developed to enhance the control over gene regulation and to leverage the growing amount of functional genomics data that was being generated in the 2000s. The technology enables enhanced gene control in any eukaryotic organism and in almost any condition of interest. We can use the platform in any area of biotechnology, including AgBio, assay development, bioprocessing, industrial biotechnology and cell and gene therapy.

Soon after the company was established we signed a deal with Dow Agrosciences to develop promoters for maize and we secured several different grants to demonstrate the applicability of the technology to different systems; including yeast-based biomanufacturing, development of improved cell-based assays and the enhancement of DNA vaccination approaches.

In 2015, David Venables joined us as CEO and we changed the focus of the company to commercialise our tech only in the fields of mammalian bioprocessing and cell & gene therapy. We proceeded to raise over £2 million in an investment by Calculus Capital and signed deals with uniQure, AGTC and Adverum Biotechnologies. In 2016, we continued that momentum by expanding our collaborations with uniQure and Adverum and by signing a deal with Sartorius Stedim Cellca. The company has significantly grown such that we are now 20 people, and we form the biggest and most experienced commercial entity focusing on promoter design. 

AT: Could you explain how your proprietary PromPT platform works?

The PromPT platform is essentially an integrated approach to identify natural enhancer sequences in the genome that control the specific transcription of endogenous genes in the chosen environmental context. For instance, using the platform we can identify enhancer regions that are important in controlling the cell-type expression of any given endogenous gene, or enhancers that mediate gene expression in response to a given stimuli, e.g. chemical, biological, pathological or environmental. This allows us to identify promoter parts that we can use to build a synthetic promoter library that is designed to be active in that chosen condition. We typically apply PromPT to identify important enhancer regions that we experimentally validate in the cell type of interest and then build promoter libraries based on active enhancers. Typically, the individual enhancer regions are very active on their own, rivaling the activity seen by currently used viral promoters. When we combine them to create promoter candidates we can generate synthetic promoters that are highly active, or that mediate a precise level of transcription important for the regulation of the chosen therapeutic gene.

AT: How has the PromPT platform been applied to date?

We have used the platform to create promoters for several of our partners in a few different projects. The platform has been successfully applied in the creation of promoters for CHO and 293 cells for Bioprocessing applications and for liver, muscle and a few cell types of the human eye, for gene therapy applications. 

AT: How do you foresee the collaboration with GE Healthcare will impact the world of Biopharma and Drug Discovery?

Currently-used promoters are largely based on natural promoters and have several constraints that create a huge bottleneck in the development of tools and products in the Biotech industry. This is not surprising as natural promoters have evolved over millennia to regulate gene expression to the precise levels required to elicit a specific physiological function in a precise cellular environment. Consequently, natural promoters are not best suited to control the expression of genes in the industrial setting of a bioreactor, nor in the environs of a diseased cell, where a degree of specificity and optimal therapeutic expression is required.

We design and develop patentable synthetic promoters that are customized to regulate genes in a highly specific manner. Given that these promoters greatly improve upon the natural promoters on which the entire biotech industry currently relies, there is enormous potential for the company to drive the Biotech industry forward and transform the entire sector.

Michael Roberts, Ph.D, Founder and CSO of Synpromics Ltd was speaking to Adam Tozer, Editor for Technology Networks

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