New technology offers an alternative to injections and production of green hydrogen

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For a long time, it was mainly used as a model system for basic research – the single-celled microorganism Sulfolobus acidocaldarius† It is one of the microorganisms that thrive under extremely hot or acidic conditions. dr. Julian Quehenberger, CTO at TU Vienna spin-off NovoArc, came up with the idea of ​​making a new kind of pill that offers an alternative to injections. However, the technology can also be used in the production of green hydrogen.

In 2021, Quehenberger and Spadiut, along with Dr. David Wurm founded the biotech company NovoArc and managed to commercialize the idea with spin-off grants from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). CEO David Wurm tells more about it.

What’s wrong with the current tablets?

“The reason why many drugs have to be injected is their instability in the stomach and poor absorption in the body after oral administration. Currently, chemical coatings are used to protect the active ingredient in the stomach. However, these often fill a large part of the entire tablet. substances used for the coatings are also the subject of criticism.

In addition, active substances with low bioavailability are often administered to patients in overdoses so that a sufficient amount is absorbed by the body. This leads to serious side effects, such as antibiotics that can destroy the intestinal flora. It also places a heavy burden on the aquatic ecosystem. For example, the hormones secreted by birth control pills cause infertility in fish. “

Explanatory video (c) NovoArc

What solution does this microorganism offer?

“We use a biological sheath of lipids – so-called liposomes – to protect various active substances against degradation in the stomach and to increase uptake into the intestine. The lipids come from the cell membrane of these so-called extremophilic microorganisms. They act as a biological barrier in the acidic environment of the stomach.

The use of these lipids was successfully tested several years ago in numerous in vivo studies for the administration of insulin, antibiotics, cancer drugs and other drugs. The reason why there are no products with this technology on the market yet is the availability of the necessary lipids. Until now, these have not been able to be produced in sufficient quality and quantity. Through many years of research, we have succeeded in developing a production process that solves this problem so that the technology can finally be used in the pharmaceutical sector.

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There are currently several approaches to replacing injections with tablets, but they always have some drawbacks. Yet the subject is extremely important. After all, more than 20 percent of the entire population is afraid of injections, and many people even faint when they receive injections. ”

What was the biggest challenge?

“The biggest challenge was the development of a production process for the necessary lipids. We produce these substances through a biotechnological process using archaea. These archaea grow very slowly in nature and require very complex conditions. It was not easy to cultivate them in a reproducible and scalable way in a defined and controlled laboratory atmosphere. This is where our know-how from the development of bioprocesses and our many years of experience in pharmaceutical production processes came in handy. ”

To what extent is the product ready for the market?

“The pharmaceutical market is very slow. However, we are pleased that we already have several partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and have already sold our product to them. Because we are an innovation-driven company, we want to continuously develop our product. We are currently working on special lipid mixtures, which we adapt to specific active ingredients. In addition, in addition to oral administration of active substances, we also want to develop products for the administration of medicine through the skin and nose. ”

Microorganism, NovoArc, Tablet instead of syringe,
NovoArc Team (from left): Julian Quehenberger, David Wurm, Oliver Spadiut (c) NovoArc

“Another great benefit of our technology is the stabilizing effect of our lipids on the active ingredients during storage. Normally, many active ingredients need to be stored at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius. This is accompanied by high costs, a large logistical effort and high energy consumption. Our lipids must make it possible to store many active ingredients at room temperature. This in turn reduces CO2footprint significantly! It also makes it possible to provide medical care to people in remote areas. “

Do you also plan to use microorganisms to make good hydrogen?

“We really want to use the stable lipids from Sulfolobus to develop new mini power plants for the production of green hydrogen (H2† huh2 is a carbon-free, alternative energy carrier and is considered the sustainable fuel of the future. This is largely due to the high gravimetric energy density. (This describes how much energy is stored per weight (mass) of a raw material; ed.).

Most of H2 however, those used today are produced from non-renewable resources, such as natural gas or coal. Only a small portion, about 4 percent, is made from water by electrolysis. However, electrolysis is only sustainable if the necessary electricity comes from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy – and this only applies to 5 per cent. There is therefore a great demand for new and sustainable methods for producing green H2

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“A possible green process for generating energy or hydrogen is semi-artificial photosynthesis. In this process, the enzymes from plants or microorganisms responsible for photosynthesis are used in photoelectrochemical cells. These enzymes are embedded in membranes in their natural environment. If you will use them effectively for a long time, you need to embed them in such an environment to stabilize them.

Recently, these enzymes have been successfully incorporated into conventional liposomes. However, this served a purely basic scientific purpose. Conventional lipids are not stable enough to withstand the high temperatures and release of oxygen – the conditions for photosynthesis.

We want green H. in a sustainable way2 produce from light and water in stable mini power plants. For this purpose, we transform the photoactive building blocks into CO2– biotechnologically extract negative processes and wrap them in stable lipids from NovoArcs. ”

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