SemBioSys Genetics Inc.

2002 Winner: Industrial Research

SemBioSys Genetics is pushing the frontiers of what’s possible in biotechnology by fundamentally changing the way proteins are made. At the same time, the company has found novel uses for oilseeds that are far removed from the dinner tables of the world. Around the globe, genetic engineering is accelerating the development of proteins with commercial potential. But for the companies that need genetically engineered compounds, splicing a protein gene into a host bacterium, plant or animal species is just the first step. In many cases, the most fiscally challenging part involves isolating and purifying the end product.

SemBioSys Genetics has developed a method of grafting recombinant proteins to oilseed proteins found in safflower. After harvest, the desired proteins are easily extracted with the safflower oil. This technique promises to substantially lower the cost of producing, collecting and purifying commercial peptides and proteins that other companies require to generate vaccines, pharmaceutical, industrial enzymes, cosmetic ingredients and nutritional products.

SemBioSys currently employs 60 people, 39 of whom are involved in research and development. University of Calgary graduate student Rodrigo Marins is assisting with the research over a three-year period and should lead to journal publications. NSERC has approved SemBioSys’s participation in its industrially oriented programs, because of the company’s demonstrated ability to pursue sophisticated research and development. SemBioSys has received funding from other government organizations and major pharmaceutical and agriculture companies — further evidence of the significance of the company’s development work.

The NRC/ASTech prize will be used to finance a graduate student whose research will advance the understanding of oleosin targeting in oilseeds thereby allowing SemBioSys to further optimize its oleosin technology. Using SemBioSys technology, protein production facilities could be built for a fraction of what they cost now. With its efficient, cost-cutting technology, SemBioSys holds great promise of becoming one of the world’s leading suppliers of transgenic protein for the global pharmaceutical market.