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Growth factors developed at MUNI licensed by a global distribution company

Enantis, a Masaryk University spin-off company, concluded a license agreement for the production of stabilised growth factor FGF2.

Enantis, Masaryk University’s first biotechnology spin-off company, has recently concluded a license agreement with a leading global distributor of materials for science and research. This will enable to increase the production of FGF2-STAB, a patented fibroblast growth factor, making it available to laboratories all over the world. Revenues from sales will also go to MU.

Growth factors are among the most important biomolecules in living cells. The synthesis and degradation of growth factors at the various stages of cell division and differentiation enable living organisms to develop and grow properly. Fibroblast growth factor 2 is among key molecules in cell cultivation media used to grow embryonic stem cells, which have broad applications in biomedical research and clinical practice.

Fibroblast growth factors are proteins supporting cell growth and division. Petr Dvořák and Pavel Krejčí from the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Medicine were among the first to work with these factors, focusing on FGF2. They discovered and characterised some of its properties, but more importantly, they managed to stabilise the factor using protein engineering. This means they modified it to remain functional for over twenty days at temperatures of around 37 degrees Celsius, which is critical for biological applications.

Leveraging their close co-operation with the teams at Loschmidt Laboratories, RECETOX, and the Department of Experimental Biology at the Faculty of Science, they agreed to test the newly developed FireProt stabilisation platform on these biomedically interesting but unstable molecules. “FireProt is a computational system that enables us to search for suitable modifications of molecules to make them useful in practice. FGF2 was the first system with applications in biomedicine on which we successfully used our platform,” said Jiří Damborský, describing the steps towards the recent success.

Modifications of FGF2 through protein engineering took three years and focused on the protein’s thermodynamic stability. “We gradually substituted certain amino acids in its structure for different ones, or in other words we deliberately created point mutations. This process strengthened the interactions between the amino acids, thus improving the overall robustness of the protein. The design of the mutations and their construction was quite fast, but then came a long period where we had to test their influence on the FGF2’s biological activity. We were very careful not to damage the protein, so we always tested only a single variant out of thousands of candidates,” added David Bednář, one of the creators of the FireProt platform.

Stabilised FGF2 can be used by scientists in their work with stem cells because it stimulates cell division and can be used in cell therapies, treatment of slow-healing wounds such as burns and in the treatment of diabetes. The molecule is protected by a patent that is jointly owned by MU and Enantis. The product named FGF2-STAB secured a European patent and patent proceedings in other countries are pending.

Enantis is responsible for the commercial applications of the molecule. After a year of negotiations, the company managed to conclude a license agreement with a US company which will manufacture and further develop the application possibilities of the growth factor. “The negotiation was not easy, but we’re happy that such an important global company decided to license our technology and satisfy the growing demand for our product,” said Roman Badík, CEO of Enantis.

While the name of the global company and other details of the license agreement have not been made public, it represents a breakthrough in the history of Masaryk University. “Each year, MU enters into dozens of licensing agreements for the intellectual property developed at the university. However, in terms of future benefits, this may be one of the most important contracts signed so far,” said Radoslav Trautmann, head of MU’s Technology Transfer Division, adding that it marks a milestone in biotechnology not only for the South Moravian Region, but the Czech Republic as a whole.