Significant funding boost to allow Nottingham researchers to unlock sustainable pharmaceutical manufacturing

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have joined forces with biotechnology company HydRegen for a project that will unlock sustainable biocatalytic hydrogenation – allowing the process to be scaled up and improved for industry use.

The focus of the feasibility study will be on the intensification of metallo-enzyme production and aims to lower the cost of production for three enzymes that are critical to the production of the chemical building block quininuclidinol, which is used in the production of many important drugs and other end-products.

Metallo-enzymes are exceptional tools for industrial biotechnology as they can carry out effectively a broad range of useful reactions. Their production however is more challenging than other enzymes and requires tailored research.

By validating the cost and sustainability metrics for quinuclidinol manufacture, a ‘license-ready’ bio-based manufacturing route for quinuclidinol that meets the needs for reshoring key active pharmaceutical ingredients production can be produced.

Dr Simone Morra, Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, said: “I started collaborating with HydRegen back in 2022 and I’m excited to continue working with them on this new project. My team and I have a deep expertise in novel hydrogenase enzymes that can cycle dihydrogen and hydrogen ions.

“These are the enzymes of interest to HydRegen due to their unusual balance in ease of production and ease of handling. We have the know-how and facilities in enzyme production spanning from early-stage academic research through to evaluation of scalable enzyme production in bioreactors to transfer to HydRegen as part of this collaboration for process intensification and scale up of metallo-enzyme production.

This is the third grant we’ve received to collaborate with HydRegen, showing that applying our academic research to an industrial setting can prove incredibly fruitful – and I look forward to seeing what this new study reveals.
-Dr Simone Morra, Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham

Funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, the teams will tackle the challenges in manufacturing readiness of current technologies, by intensifying and scaling enzyme production with a focus on applying it to a demonstrator process for quinuclidinol production.

Dr Rhiannon Evans, Head of Enzyme production and Molecular Biology at HydRegen, said: “We are excited to embark on this exciting project with Dr Simone Morra, and his team at the University of Nottingham.”

Dr Morra's expertise in novel hydrogen cycling enzymes and cutting-edge knowledge will be a great asset in helping us to increase the manufacturing readiness for three of HydRegen’s critical metallo-enzymes and builds out our in-house research and development capabilities.
-Dr Rhiannon Evans, Head of Enzyme production and Molecular Biology at HydRegen

Dr Evans continued: “This has the potential to make a step-change in HydRegen’s ability to lower cost and increase scalability of hydrogenase production.”

The BBSRC, EPSRC and Innovate UK are supporting 34 feasibility studies across the UK to develop and improve sustainable biomanufacturing. The programme aims to enhance UK global competitiveness by supporting research and innovation that focuses on developing new and disruptive sustainable biomanufacturing products and processes that will support UK biomanufacturing in becoming net zero and resource efficient, resilient, and responsive, technologically advanced and digital by 2050.