SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) announced today that Professor of Nanobioscience Dr. Susan Sharfstein is receiving $250,000 in new funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support production of a bioengineered version of the anticoagulant (blood thinner) known as heparin, which could lead to a more cost-effective therapy and more reliable production. The award facilitates the continuation of research in collaboration with TEGA Therapeutics, Inc. (TEGA), in addition to Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences’ Center for Biopharmaceutical Education and Training (ACPHS CBET), which is co-located with SUNY Poly, and concurrently offers opportunities for SUNY Poly students to gain hands-on, leading-edge laboratory experience.
In addition to earning the NSF grant, Dr. Sharfstein was also recently selected to take part in the Fulbright alumni ambassador program to increase engagement with STEM-focused professionals and researchers. Dr. Sharfstein received in 2017 a prestigious Fulbright Global Scholar Fellowship and worked with biopharmaceutical counterparts in Dublin, Ireland, at Dublin City University (DCU) and in Brisbane, Australia, at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland.
“I am proud to offer my congratulations to Dr. Sharfstein for this NSF award which showcases the unique capabilities and expertise that are the hallmarks of SUNY Poly and its faculty, with exciting educational opportunities that, together, will support production of a more cost-effective and reliable blood thinner to address health needs here in New York State and beyond,” said Interim Dean of SUNY Poly’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Dr. André Melendez. “I am also excited to congratulate Dr. Sharfstein on her selection as a Fulbright ambassador, in which her unique background and recent fellowship experience will undoubtedly continue to benefit her research efforts at SUNY Poly and inspire others.”
Because heparin, a widely prescribed anticoagulant that is used for surgical operations and patients who otherwise have risks of blood clotting, is currently prepared from animal tissues, primarily in China, regulation can be difficult. The relevant animal population may also not be able to keep up with increasing demand.
Dr. Sharfstein’s team, including a postdoctoral fellow, a visiting student from Thailand, and an undergraduate student intern, aim to develop scalable, cell-based production in which the entire supply chain can be placed under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) control. Working with TEGA, the SUNY Poly team will also collaborate with researchers from ACPHS CBET who will conduct bioreactor experiments and some sample analysis.
“I am grateful to the NSF and our partners, TEGA and ACPHS CBET, and am excited to focus on this paradigm-shifting research which seeks to advance from the production of protein drugs in cultured mammalian cells by recombinant DNA technology, to using metabolic engineering to produce carbohydrate-based drugs in cultured mammalian cells for the production of a product that can be commercialized,” said Professor Sharfstein. “I am also thrilled to have been selected as an ambassador for the Fulbright Global Scholarship Fellow program, and I look forward to continuing to build on the incredible Fulbright experience and further inspire other top-tier researchers.”
Dr. Charles Glass, President & CSO of TEGA Therapeutics, Inc., said, “We are fortunate to be working with Dr. Sharfstein because of her unique insight into this project. Her laboratory has already helped us advance heparin bioprocessing. Building on that progress, we are optimistic that we can reach viable levels for commercial production. This would be an exceptional scientific and commercial accomplishment.”
“We congratulate Dr. Sharfstein, a member of our CBET advisory group, for being selected as an ambassador for the Fulbright Global Scholarship Fellow program, and are happy to collaborate with Dr. Sharfstein on her efforts to produce a bioengineered blood thinner,” said Dr. Kamal Rashid, Founding Director of CBET. “CBET is a purpose-built bioprocessing center with bench scale upstream and downstream processing laboratories that are equipped with the latest industry-grade technologies, including single-use and traditional systems capable of batch, continuous, and perfusion processes.”
The new grant is funded through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which has an overall program goal of enabling small businesses to thrive by providing incentives to advance R&D through successful commercialization as it concurrently drives high-tech innovation and entrepreneurial activity. This recent grant builds upon previous, similar awards for related research by Dr. Sharfstein and her team throughout the last decade totaling approximately $1.3M. For more information about SBIR grants, please visit the website: https://www.sbir.gov/.