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The Biocatalysis research group headed by Prof. Francesco Mutti at the University of Amsterdam’s Van ’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences has contributed to the development of a novel industrial biocatalytic conversion process. Developed in a cooperation with the Italian companies Olon Group and Biosphere, it employs an enzymatic conversion that renders the production of an important starting material for pharmaceutical synthesis more efficient and sustainable.

Just over a year ago, the Olon Group, Biosphere and the Biocatalysis group (HIMS-Biocat) announced their cooperation as the International Network for Biocatalysis, aiming at the study and development of new industrial applications of biocatalysis. They now present the development of an enzymatic process capable of converting of ketoacid to the corresponded unnatural amino acid in enantiomerically pure form, which is as key starting material for the production of an (undisclosed) Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient. The development involved engineering the target enzyme and testing its application. The data now presented substantiate a very satisfactory performance: where a minimum enantiomeric purity is required of 99.7%, the enantiomeric purity actually obtained lies beyond 99.9%.

The first phase of the research focused on the selection of the enzyme and its engineering to obtain the best yield and selectivity in the reductive amination reaction. Once the ad hoc optimized enzyme was obtained, the second phase took the form of developing the enzyme production process by fermentation. Now, the project is in the final phase which foresees the completion of the production process on an industrial scale in facilities of the Olon group, an Italy-based, international producer of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) providing integrated full-service capabilities.

A partnership in biocatalysis

In biocatalysis, a chemical conversion is catalysed by an enzyme, either free or immobilized. This enzyme is obtained from cellular cultures and then purified to a level that is required for the specific conversion. New biocatalysts and biocatalytic systems can foster more sustainable and efficient synthesis of organic molecules that are relevant for the chemical industry, as well as to address fundamental questions of bioorganic chemistry and biochemistry. The HIMS-Biocat group, headed by Prof. Mutti, has pioneered ground-breaking research in the area of enzyme engineering and the use of enzymes for performing novel, sustainable and “green” chemical reactions. In the cooperation with Olon Group and Biosphere — an Italian SME specialised in fermentation and industrial biotechnology — the group has a great opportunity to work towards industrially relevant large-scale biocatalysis. The partnership will be continued in the future with other research projects.

See also