PlantForm Corporation has teamed up with a University of British Columbia research group led by Dr. Joerg Bohlmann to develop a novel plant-based treatment option for Type-2 diabetes and obesity, with support from GlycoNet (Canadian Glycomics Network).

Bohlmann is a GlycoNet investigator and renowned leader in plant specialized metabolism, especially the genes and enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of high-value plant bioproducts. In particular, the Bohlmann lab has characterized the entire biosynthetic pathway of Montbretin A (MbA), a small molecule found in montbretia (Crocosmia), an ornamental plant of the Iris family.

Because of its unique pharmacological properties, MbA is being developed as a treatment for Type-2 diabetes and obesity, and it has been approved by Health Canada for Phase 1 clinical trials. However, MbA is only found in very small amounts and during limited periods of montbretia’s annual cycle. For clinical trials and commercialization to be feasible, researchers need a reliable, economical way to produce large quantities of MbA.

This collaboration is focused on using PlantForm’s plant-based vivoXPRESS® manufacturing platform to produce a stable and scalable supply of MbA.

“PlantForm’s vivoXPRESS platform is highly versatile and uniquely suited to meeting the need for cost-effective, large-scale production of proteins, enzymes, antibodies, vaccines and other molecules used in a wide range of healthcare applications ,” said Dr. Don Stewart, PlantForm’s President and CEO. “We’re very excited to be collaborating with the Bohlmann lab and leveraging funding from GlycoNet to develop a better way to treat a devastating disease and improve quality of life for millions of people.”

Type-2 diabetes affects half a billion people worldwide and is one of the top 10 diseases causing premature death. Previous research has shown that MbA selectively inhibits human pancreatic α-amylase — a critical enzyme involved in breaking down starches and controlling blood sugar — without the side-effects of existing diabetes medications.

“Assuming a daily dose of 200 mg per patient, treating all Canadians with Type-2 diabetes would require more than 100,000 kg of MbA every year,” said Bohlmann. Proof-of-concept work using vivoXPRESS has already generated yields of MbA 10 times higher than could be obtained from montbretia plants. “The outcome of this strategic partnership will be a scalable production system, which is essential for the successful development and future commercialization of MbA.”

The immediate aim of the project will be to optimize the vivoXPRESS system to maximize yields of MbA while reducing production of unwanted co-metabolites. The long-term goal is to bring MbA to the mass market as either a pharmaceutical therapy or functional food / nutritional supplement.

“Scientifically, this project builds upon years of cutting-edge work by each of the partners,” said Stewart. “Commercially, it’s tremendously exciting because of the potential to provide a new and effective treatment for a chronic disease that affects so many people.”