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Accelerating development and manufacture of anti-cancer drugs

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Orla Protein Technologies

Dr Siôn Phillips, Technical Project Leader & Dr Dale Athey, CEO of Orla Proteins

Orla Protein Technologies Ltd is a biotechnology company with a focus on engineering proteins and immobilising them onto surfaces for application in the Life Sciences.

Our CEO, Dr Dale Athey, co-founded Orla 13 years ago with Jeremy Lakey, Professor of Structural Biochemistry at Newcastle University. We have built an amazing team of dedicated protein engineers, scientists and support staff that provide our customers with the best technology solutions. We continue to innovate and invest in our technology platform and in our people.

Aiding development of anti-cancer drugs

Orla’s engineered proteins are being used across the biopharmaceutical development process and for manufacturing.

In this project, we focus upon creating tools that are needed during the development of immuno-oncology drugs. This type of therapy has huge potential for treatment of cancer patients as it targets your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer.

When cells become cancerous, they can display molecules on their surface (known as checkpoint inhibitors) that inhibit the function of T-cells. T-cells are part of the body’s immune system, helping us all to fight infections.  Some cancer cells have found a way to stop our immune system from telling the difference between our own cells and ‘foreign’ cells, and so our immune system does not kill the cancer cells as it would a foreign cell, such as a bacterial cell.

This Cancer Research video explains the concept of so-called 'checkpoint' immunotherapy drugs, which work by allowing a patient's immune system to target their cancer.  Our project will provide a new “molecular toolkit” compatible with standard laboratory techniques, that enables drug developers to investigate these complex biological interactions.

Targeting these checkpoint inhibitor surface molecules on cancer cells provides a therapeutic opportunity to attack cancer cells specifically, rather than the lack of specificity in many existing cancer treatments, which can result in side effects, such as hair loss and anaemia.

In our Innovate UK-funded project, headed up by Dr Siôn Phillips, we are developing a range of ‘checkpoint protein’ molecules that can be used during the development of anti-cancer drugs that target checkpoint inhibitors.

These proteins are normally on the surface of T-cells and cancer cells, and they are involved in preventing the body’s response to cancer.

We are engineering proteins that are found on some cancer cells (e.g. protein PD-L1), as well as proteins that are found on T-cells (e.g. PD-1) and that act as binding partners for cancer surface proteins. Once bound, the T-cell’s usual immune response is inhibited (prevented), stopping our immune system from killing the cancer cell.

Novel cancer bio-therapeutics are being developed that aim to affect this checkpoint inhibition process. This is a relatively new but rapidly growing area. Currently only three cancer treatments targeting the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction are in the cancer immunotherapy market.

Our molecules will help scientists to analyse the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs and ultimately to accelerate their development and manufacture. - Dr Phillips explains.

Improving efficiency of bio-therapeutics

Orla Proteins lab

Our protein molecules provide opportunities for scientists to test their novel drugs outside of the body, in the lab, helping to develop new treatments more quickly and, ultimately, to identify the best treatment available for an individual patient.

A major challenge is to immobilise these proteins onto surfaces in a way that retains their functionality; this is what we are planning to achieve during the course of our Innovate UK funded project.

We are confident in our ability to accomplish this as engineering and immobilising proteins onto surfaces is our core expertise.

Our innovative molecular engineering approach to designing these proteins gives us the ability to change them in the most useful way for their purpose. The engineered molecules have high functionality and can attach to a range of surfaces.

This simplifies and enhances processes, as the same molecules can be used throughout the development and manufacturing process in different scenarios. For example, for initial testing on plastic plates, and on biochips for high throughput screening of potential new drugs.

Orla Proteins at the heart of ground-breaking products and processes

In the next 5 years, Orla aims to be the leading company for design, engineering, manufacture and immobilisation of proteins to surfaces for application in the Life Sciences.

We want to see Orla proteins at the heart of multiple products and processes across life sciences, which will ultimately improve the lives of patients. We have already demonstrated the power of our technology in applications such as:

  • biosensors and analytics
  • cell culture
  • bio-manufacture

The development of these checkpoint proteins will further demonstrate the utility of our technology in the development of anti-cancer drugs and other biopharmaceuticals.

Contact us



Twitter: @OrlaProteins

This blog is an example of projects funded through Innovate UK’s Open programme.

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