I had some more free time today, so I decided to check out MNT to see if there was anything new that had been posted…unsurprisingly, there were plenty of new articles, and I scrolled through the titles for a while, until I saw one that caught my eye, entitled “Synthetic Biology Breakthrough Leads to Cheaper Statin Production”. (If you would like to read this article, click here). So, I had a quick read, and my first thought was, what exactly are statins? We’ve all heard of them, and know that they are used to lower blood cholesterol, but how exactly do they do this? Well, it turns out that they do this by blocking the action of a certain chemical in the liver that actually makes the cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for basic human functions, but in excess can be fatal, as it increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. There are many types of statin, and they can be taken for a variety of reasons, such as heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, and other, atheroma-related illnesses. Very simply, statins work by inhibiting the enzyme which controls the production of cholesterol in the liver, so therefore slowing down the production.
Anyway, back to the actual article I read…so, unsurprisingly, statins cost quite a bit to produce (a two-step process, involving both fermentation and biotransformation). However, the University of Manchester have found a new, cheaper way of producing statins, using fermentation, which will allow for the drugs to be produced on a much larger, industrial scale. The specific drug being produced is pravastatin, and it is being made from a Penicillium chrysogenum (a fungus that can produce antibiotics). I can’t really put it into simple words, as I think I would end up confusing myself, so the website described it as ‘Reprogramming the antibiotics-producing fungus Penicillium chrysogenum, with discovery and engineering of a cytochrome P450 enzyme involved in the hydroxylation of the precursor compactin, enabled high level fermentation of the correct form of pravastatin to facilitate efficient industrial-scale statin drug production. Key steps leading to the successful outcome included the identification and deletion of a fungal gene responsible for degradation of compactin, in addition to evolution of the P450 to enable it to catalyse the desired stereoselective hydroxylation step required for high level pravastatin production.’
That’s pretty much all I was going to write about today, and you probably won’t have found it very interesting, but I enjoyed writing it, as I got to learn a lot about statins, which, previously, I hadn’t known much about. I also found it interesting, as researchers are constantly coming up with new ways to produce the medication we need on a cheaper, easier, higher yield, cost-efficient scale…anyway, thank you for reading! Eleanor 😀