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Vaccine research Artificial enzyme from Leipzig helps in the fight against Corona

A Leipzig biotech company produces an artificial enzyme at the Alte Messe that is used in vaccine production against the corona virus. The demand for “Denarase” has more than doubled in the past few weeks.

Marc Struhalla, Managing Director of the Leipzig biotech company c-LEcta, in front of a bioreactor. According to the basic principle of a brewing kettle, in which yeasts are stimulated to metabolize, microorganisms can be cultivated under precisely defined conditions. Source: Susanne Nuremberg

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The search for a vaccine against the corona virus is in full swing worldwide. The Leipzig-based biotechnology company c-LEcta also notices this: In their laboratories, the employees produce, among other things, an enzyme that the pharmaceutical industry uses in vaccine production.

"Demand has more than doubled in two months," says Marc Struhalla. The 45-year-old managing director of c-LEcta has a doctorate in biochemistry himself and started the company in 2004 with a colleague as a university spin-off. At the Old Fair, for example, the experts developed an enzyme that eliminates the bitterness of a sweetener from the stevia plant. A large beverage company uses it to sweeten a supposedly healthy version of its lemonade.

An enzyme that destroys in the service of health

But it is up to date c-Lecta mainly concerned with fabricating a microorganism for vaccine production, the effect of which is already in the name: "denarius". The enzyme erases genetic information from a cell – “DNA erase” so to speak. "It is extremely efficient and chops up nucleic acids downright small," explains Struhalla. The substance is applied to the DNA of bacteria after they have done their work in the service of science.

Previously, the genetically reprogrammed bacteria were used much like yeast in bread baking: in fact, they are the ones that make the vaccine. In doing so, however, they leave behind their genetic information – and this has to go before people are vaccinated with the preparation. This is where Denarase comes in.

Struhalla has been putting sales of the enzyme in the seven-digit euro range since the beginning of the Corona crisis. A dose of 5000 to 20 milliliters costs more than 25 euros. However, it is currently difficult to supply pharmaceutical companies all over the world with it. “We are very concerned about the logistical challenge,” says Struhalla. Demand is particularly high from the USA, but the number of cargo flights across the Atlantic is greatly reduced due to the pandemic. Moreover, only specialized service providers are qualified to transport the expensive liquid safely and refrigerated.

Production cannot be relocated to the home office

Even the production of the enzyme is not as easy as usual in times of Corona: After all, Struhalla is responsible to protect its approximately 80 employees as well as possible from infection. A third of them therefore work at home, business trips have been canceled, "but production cannot be relocated to the home office," says the company boss.

Distance rules therefore apply in the laboratory. The workforce is divided into several functional areas, the employees of which keep to themselves. "So that in the event of an infection, we don't have to quarantine everyone and we don't have to shut down the entire operation," explains Struhalla. Luckily, they started to build up large stocks of "Denarase" in good time. After all, the enzyme that the Leipzig experts produce is urgently needed right now.

From Mathias Wobking

Source: LVZ+ online on 05.04.2020

 


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