The European PURE project received funding of approximately 3 million euros to develop new sustainable methods of producing biopharmaceuticals, including medicines of biological origin, such as antibodies and viral particles, used respectively in the treatment of cancer and vaccination. The project is coordinated by Cecília Roque, Principal Investigator of the Biomolecular Engineering Laboratory of the Applied Biomolecular Sciences Unit (UCIBIO) and professor at the NOVA School of Science and Technology.
The consortium of the European PURE project additionally includes the participation of three other institutions: the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences - BOKU (Austria), Bayreuth University (Germany) and the Institute of Experimental and Technological Biology - iBET (Portugal) .
PURE started in October 2019 and, over the next four years, this international and multidisciplinary team proposes to redesign the way biopharmaceuticals are produced. These, although crucial in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, are not conveniently accessible to those in need, due to the high cost or low yields of their production.
“We are pioneers in the development of new materials and processes for the purification of biopharmaceuticals in a more efficient, sustainable and more reasonable cost,” says Cecília Roque, Project Coordinator. In fact, “the biopharmaceutical purification process is accountable for about 80% of its total production cost”, stresses Cristina Peixoto, responsible for the Purification Process Development Laboratory at iBET, and “innovative concepts in the purification of viral particles and other biopharmaceuticals are a current need, especially considering the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 ”, comments Alois Jungbauer, Director of the Bioprocess Science and Engineering Institute at the BOKU University, Austria.
The scalable production of new materials of biological origin, such as nanofibers, for the efficient capture of biological products, is currently a performance limitation in medical and technical applications. The PURE project transforms the way we think about bio-based materials. “Biogenic and mechanically robust membrane systems are ideal for air and water filtration processes. With the power of genetic engineering, it is equally possible to develop innovative materials for the selective purification of biological products. We are excited to contribute to this fascinating project, ”says Thomas Scheibel, President of the Department of Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth.
The project coordinator, Cecília Roque, guarantees that "only a radical change in purification technologies can reduce the environmental impact of the biopharmaceutical industry." These new, faster and more efficient purification processes have the potential to make biopharmaceuticals — traditionally more expensive and only available to privileged populations — economically accessible to disadvantaged populations. Alois Jungbauer adds that "the materials and processes developed meet the requirements of a bio-based economy - bioeconomics - because these are completely degradable and combine environmental protection with improvements in the economy."
The FET Open (Future and Emerging Technologies) contest is a program under the Horizon 2020 Community Framework Program for Research & Innovation that aims to promote research and technology beyond what is known, accepted or widely recognized, and to encourage new ideas leading to the discovery of new technologies.