FFG spin-off fellowship focuses on efficient production of isotope-labelled amino acids


"Labelled amino acids" project is one out of total eleven recently granted FFG spin-off fellowships that will be led by FFG fellow Predrag Kalaba and host Markus Muttenthaler at the Institute of Biological Chemistry, University of Vienna.

Amino acids are building blocks of life. If we replace atoms in these amino acids with heavier ones, we get heavy amino acids – commonly called as isotope-labelled amino acids. These amino acids are special, as they allow modern analytical techniques (NMR, MS) to track their movement, interaction and metabolism in biological environments, including animals and humans. They are powerful tools in solving complex biological questions and can accelerate fundamental research as well as drug discovery. Despite being useful, their full potential has not been realised because of their scarcity and expensive price tag; which is associated with their inefficient production processes.

At the Institute of Biological Chemistry, the team of Markus Muttenthaler has spearheaded a concerted effort that merged the boundary between "bioengineering" and "synthetic chemistry" to overcome production challenges associated with these amino acids. He and his team (Predrag Kalaba, Kirtikumar Jadhav and Manuel Uhlir) developed a truly innovative and efficient approach to produce a complete set of isotope-labelled amino acids. This technology is scalable, time efficient and undercuts current industry production costs, and provides access to a complete family of these labelled amino acids.

To further advance this technology, Predrag Kalaba will lead a team of two post-doctoral researchers and two technicians and will optimise and expand the scale and scope of this technology to access these amino acids at a scale feasible for industrial production. Kalaba and his team are ambitious to transform this technology to a commercial level and start a spin-off company that would play a pivotal role in enabling scientists and researchers to create new research avenues, translate fundamental research and accelerate drug discovery, and in the long-term lead to an overall improvement of health and well-being. This research would bring economic benefits for Austria and strengthen Austria's leadership in biotechnology and innovation.

FFG fellow Predag Kalaba (l.) and host Markus Muttenthaler (© Kirti_Arts; Muttenthaler)