Oct 30 2013 Posted: 14:06 GMT

Award is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NFSC)

Drugs with an increased lifetime in the circulation and improved activity for a broad range of medical conditions are the goal of a strategic new funding award to researchers at NUI Galway and Dalian University in China.

Dr Gerard Wall, based in Microbiology and the Network for Excellence in Functional Biomaterials (NFB), a Science Foundation Ireland funded strategic research cluster, and Dr Xuejun Hu, of the Dalian University Medical School, will coordinate the prestigious grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

The award will fund a four-year research programme, beginning in January 2014, to investigate the expression of glycosylated antibody fragments in E. coli and study the effects of engineering the attached sugar components on their therapeutic potential.

Antibodies are naturally occurring proteins that are produced by the immune system to protect against pathogens and other foreign substances in the body. Due to their high specificity and strength of binding to their targets, they have enormous potential in the delivery of cytotoxic drugs to cells such as cancer cells, or in targeting of regenerative therapeutics to particular tissues or cells.

The focus of the present funding will be to develop improved antibody fragments, expressed in Escherichia coli, with increased stabilities and improved efficacies in vivo through the attachment and manipulation of glycan (sugar) molecules. Attached glycans are known to affect the physicochemical and pharmacological properties of protein-based drugs in the circulation and glycoengineering can be used to tailor drugs to meet specific delivery needs. The work will also have application in immunodiagnostics and monitoring fields.

Welcoming the funding announcement, Dr Gerard Wall said “This support will enable us to develop improved, longer-lived biopharmaceuticals using cutting edge protein engineering approaches. The work will complement established research strengths at NUI Galway in biomaterials, drug delivery and glycobiology. The award also establishes an important strategic link between biosciences research at NUI Galway and a major Chinese University and Medical School.”

The NSFC funds a combination of basic and applied biological research focusing on research promotion, talent fostering and infrastructure construction for basic research. It provides dedicated support structures for fundamental research, individual awards and infrastructure and has an annual budget in excess of 10 billion RMB (€1.2 billion).

Drs Wall and Hu were previously awarded funding from the NSFC in 2010 to establish a research team and carry out pilot work on the current project. The present funding will allow their joint research programme to be significantly expanded and will also see continued, reciprocal research exchanges between the Chinese and Irish laboratories.


Marketing and Communications Office