Glycoscience(derived from Greek glykòs for sweet) is the science and technology of sugars or biochemical carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, like glucose, fructose or lactose, are part of our daily nutrition and metabolism. Complex carbohydrates, or glycans, are the most abundant biologically active molecules on Earth. Their role in a cell, tissue and organism is ubiquitous. As a part of plants, woods or insects cell walls in the form of lignin, chitin and cellulose they provide structure and duress of the cell. Energy storage molecules like starch or glycogen keep us alive. Since glycans also present constitutive parts of monoclonal antibodies, receptors, ion channels and antigens, they are heavily involved in cell-cell communication and, thus, significantly influence development, growth, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, infectious and immunological diseases. After tackling the challenge of deciphering the genome and analyzing the proteome, the researchers turned their focus towards the glycome – the entire complement of sugars of a biological entity: organism, tissue or cell. Glycomics, an analog to genomics and proteomics, refers to the technology for high throughput screening of glycans. According to the latest European White Paper on glycobiology, the glycomics R&D market includes enzymes, monoclonal antibodies, instruments, kits and reagents, and is expected to rise to $930 billion by 2019. Glycosciences harbor huge cross-innovation possibilities within a range of disciplines, like medicine, biotechnology, bioeconomy and biomaterials. Further development and spin-off potential is tremendous – join us for your bit of sweet sugar bites in Berlin-Brandenburg!
Glycoscience research in Berlin Brandenburg spans for more than a decade. First attempts to build upon the fragmented expertise and create a value chain for glycosciences in the region can be traced back to the beginning of the 2000s. Today, with combined excellence of the Max-Planck-Institute for Colloids and Interfaces (MPIKG), Fraunhofer Gesellschaft für Zellbiologie und Immunologie (FhG IZI) Abteilung Potsdam-Golm, Charite Universitätsmedizin and a great variety of SMEs like Scienion AG, Glycotope, AnalytiCon Discovery or MicroDiscovery, bearing the expertise in glycan isolation, glycan synthesis, glycan-engineering, glycan-microarrays production, analysis and high-throughput screenings, the region established itself as one of the leading centers for glycosciences in Europe with a unique value added chain in glycobiology. As a result of the synergy of regional players, a new glycobiology network featuring world renowned scientists and entrepreneurs was initiated: glyconet Berlin Brandenburg (glyconetBB). Focused on health applications of glycomics, like drug development and new diagnostics, the research in the region follows the shift in health sciences towards the prevention and early diagnosis, still providing for the cure if the disease strike.
Glycoscience gradually gained international reputation as one of the most promising R&D topics of the future. Research advances, especially in the last decade, pointed toward their essential role in all life defining processes, from embryogenesis to cancer and immune response. Abundance and importance of these molecules appears overwhelming. Glycans bound to proteins in the form of glycoproteins and influence their activity and longevity – many of these glycoproteins present monoclonal antibodies – immunologically active molecules used in therapy and diagnostics. Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody (mAb) targeting breast cancer, belongs with its yearly turnover of $6.5 billion to the block buster drugs. CetuGEX™, a novel glycosilated mAb for the treatment of several epidermal cancers, developed by the company Glycotope, is consistently showing very promising results and is currently in the Phase IIb trial. Glycotope, a Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC Berlin-Buch) spin-off, set up and validated the GlycoExpress™ (GEX™) technology, enabling the company to mimic the human glycosylation in vitro and, thus, create a platform for continuous development of glycooptimized and fully human glycosylated antibodies. The technology, used to produce several promising drug candidates in the late phase clinical trials brought in more than €100 million in investments in the recent years and had it claimed as one of the highly anticipated exits in the global biotech sector.
Development of new diagnostics is one of the most developed branches of the regional biotechnology. Glycobiomarkers, biomarkers stratifying patients based on the glycan epitopes, bear a huge potential in future diagnostics and personalized medicine. Scienion AG specialized in microarray manufacturing enables quick implementation of the newly discovered epitopes and is continuously involved in the joint research projects and tech transfer processes in the region, skillfully bridging the gap between science and industry. Proximity to the Institute of Laboratory Medicine, Clinical Chemistry and Pathobiochemistry of the Diagnostic Laboratory and Preventive Medicine (Charité Center 5), responsible for the diagnosis of patients at both, one of the biggest European university clinics Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and one of the biggest German private clinics Vivantes, enables strong ties with final consumers – doctors and patients. Point-of-care diagnostics present simple medical blood tests which can be performed, ideally, by the patient himself. MicroDiscovery works on the development of an innovative system for smartphone based lateral flow analysis, mo:Test, based on the glycan biomarkers.
Natural products and their healing powers are sustainable resources for pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industry. AnalytiCon Discovery GmbH based in Potsdam possesses an unrivalled collection of purified Natural Products (MEGx) and its semi-synthetic derivatives (NATx), many of them glycan binding. This library coupled with a chemical expertise and international medical network, winded up a recent strategic partnership with the biotechnology company BRAIN AG. The synergy between the natural products chemistry and biotech is unique in the market and presents a spring board for fully integrated drug development process. ProBioGen AG, a specialist for the development and manufacturing of complex therapeutic glyco-proteins and viral vaccines, on the occasion of its 20thanniversary invested another €20 Mil in its production site in Berlin, expecting to double its workforce in the next years.
Glycans are the most abundant biomolecules on Earth. In plants, they are used as energy storage molecules that rose to prominence in the area of bioenergy and bioeconomy. Their structural features are exploited in the creation and derivation of new biomaterials, for implantation or drug delivery. Its unprecedented potential for discovery of new diagnostic markers, antigens for vaccine production, glycoprotein mAB therapeutics or tissue specific drug targeting is staggering. Development of platforms for high-throughput glycan screenings that enabled the rise of glycomics – the newest -omics discipline that, after genomics and proteomics attracted a number of elite researchers, paved the way for the possible economic exploitation of glycobiology. This cross-sectoral discipline found its application in biology, biotechnology, material sciences, food, cosmetic industry and bioeconomy. Entrepreneur and VC funds bet on the glycans, as the new, highly specialized, diagnostic and therapeutic molecules. The regional politics followed – the joint Master Plan for the Berlin-Brandenburg Healthcare Region incorporates future support for the development of glycobiology as an enabling technology for the biotech sector. The region harbors world-renowned scientists and entrepreneurs in glycoscience – we wish them all a very good luck for their future endeavors and invite you to join this exclusive club!