Colin Robinson and C. Mark Smales, University of Kent
Dan Bracewell and Tarit Mukhopadhyay, University College London
Anne Dell and Stuart Haslam, Imperial College
Richard Coker and Fatim Lakha, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Anan Jongkaewwattana and Peera Jaruampornpan
Virology and Cell Technology Lab, National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
Panit Kitsubun and Lalintip Hocharoen
National Biopharmaceutical Facility, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi
Funded by a total of £ 3.93 million for a period of 4 years from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project brings together UK and Thai experts to establish facilities and technology for recombinant protein production in Thailand, especially biopharmaceuticals and animal vaccines.
Biopharmaceuticals are revolutionizing the world of medicine and saving the lives of thousands of people. Patients suffering from cancer, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and other health problems benefit from biopharmaceuticals’ high efficacy and few side effects. The efficacy and safety of biopharmaceutical products dictate pharma companies to command high prices for their innovative drugs which, unfortunately, hinder patient access in developing countries such as Thailand.
Veterinary vaccines are important for animal health, animal welfare and food production. The burden of infectious diseases in livestock is a major constraint to sustained agricultural development and food security. Swine industry is massive in Thailand, with more than 200,000 households maintaining pigs. However, the industry continues to be plagued by viral epidemics. Thailand currently imports all of its animal vaccines but they are often ineffective as local viral strains are different.
To solve the above issues, the project seeks to establish a state-of-the-art technical capacity for Thailand to produce their own recombinant proteins. Dr. Kitsubun points out that “Thailand has recently built National Biopharmaceutical Facility to cater the needs for the country to have facilities for large scale recombinant protein production”. Jointly managed by BIOTEC and KMUTT, the facility is designed to produce both biopharmaceuticals and animal vaccines which is a perfect fit for the Thai-UK collaboration. With the support of the UK team in protein production, protein purification and protein analytics to ensure that products will comply with regulations required, the ultimate goal is to provide life-saving drugs which are expensive and denied to most Thai patients.
As well as medicines for the treatment of human diseases, the team also seeks to produce a suite of high-value veterinary vaccines against major porcine diseases with reduced manufacturing costs, resulting in prevention of losses in Thai pig farms due to viral diseases. Dr. Jaru-ampornpan emphasizes that “the locally-produced vaccines would reduce foreign dependence and increase food security and would better match locally-circulating pathogens.”
Commencing in October 2017, the project now progresses to the next steps: express additional biopharmaceuticals, scale up expression levels and work with FDA to ensure regulatory approval. Prof. Colin said “We need to work with Thai authorities to ensure we meet Thailand’s needs”. New vaccine candidates will also be tested for efficacy. Collaboration will also be explored and expanded in South East Asian countries.
To widely introduce the project to relevant stakeholders, the British Embassy in Bangkok hosted a showcase event for the consortium on November 28, 2018, with over 100 delegates from SE Asian institutions and companies.
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries (https://www.ukri.org/research/global-challenges-research-fund/).
Posted on 2 January 2019.