What is wrong with the current method of manufacturing medicines?

Most plant-derived medicines, especially the ones without a synthetic chemistry process, rely on crop-based manufacturing processes and supply chains. This results in a system that is unpredictable, fragmented, and fragile. For example, active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturers currently have to estimate demands 2+ years ahead of time (i.e., from initiating planting), leaving no flexibility to respond to sudden demand changes. In addition, growing plants in the field lacks robust controls, which can result in batch-to-batch variability that causes complexity for further downstream processing.

How does fermentation work and how can you use it to make medicines?

Our platform starts with uncovering DNA information from diverse organisms, which encode the blueprint for how medicinal small molecules are produced using nature’s biosynthesis processes. We apply synthetic biology tools to re-code these natural DNA to allow functionality in brewer’s yeast - building a “molecular factory assembly line” in yeast to produce desired medicinal molecules. Finally, we grow our best engineered strains in fermenters where the yeast act to convert simple starting materials, like sugar and amino acids, to targeted medicinal compounds.

What are the benefits to using fermentation?

Yeast fermentation is a more sustainable, environmentally friendly process than traditional approaches that rely on extraction of medicinal compounds from plants. Many medicinal plants are rare and grow in particular climates, which leads to overharvesting and loss of irreplaceable biodiversity. In addition, farming of medicinal plants uses substantially more resources, such as arable land, water, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, than yeast-based fermentation.

Analgesics are part of your platform but given the opioid epidemic in US – why are you making them?

These days, the word “opioid” is a trigger for a lot of emotional reactions. We know the drug has been the cause of addiction and overdoses, driven by miseducation, irresponsibility and greed. We also know that it provides extremely effective relief for severe pain, so much so that the World Health Organization classifies it as an “essential medicine.” For example, the majority of cancer patients experience severe pain in going through effective treatment regimes, and opioid analgesics are critical to help complete their treatment cycle. COVID-19 has most recently highlighted the life-saving role of these medicines, as placing and keeping patients on ventilators require pain management with opioid analgesics. Our product roadmap starts with using yeast to synthesize opioid molecules traditionally derived from poppy plants. It’s our belief that these medicines play an essential role in supporting life-saving and humane treatments when used responsibly. And by starting with opioid molecules, it opens the door to developing nal-opioids (to counteract overdoses) as well as non-addictive forms of the drug. Our process allows for controlled manufacturing in an enclosed, contained facility, not in open fields of drug crops. We build genetic controls into our proprietary strains to prevent unauthorized use and propagation of our technology. Our rapid, on-demand manufacturing technology stands in contrast to current processes in which volumes must be planned and committed to years in advance. At Antheia, we are creating systems that can respond rapidly to changing demand for these medicines to avoid situations in which excess stock must be pushed into the market or spikes in demand lead to shortages in supply. As a company, we are committed to healing people, not hurting them. And we will always be transparent in our actions, align with partners who are committed to being part of the solution to the opioid crisis, and use our technology to get better medicines to more people.