Calgary, Canada (Scicasts) — Epimeron, Inc. today announced the isolation and characterization of an enzyme from Ephedra sinica catalyzing an essential step in the formation of the important drugs ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

Deploying the gene encoding the newly discovered enzyme in microbes allows the production of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine by fermentation instead of using chemical processes. This breakthrough also enables the bioproduction of other pharmaceutically important related compounds. 

Microbial production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) holds the promise to replace current methods required to isolate these APIs and their intermediates from plant sources. Fermentation in microbes has potential to provide higher yields and lower cost of goods. Biosynthetic manufacturing systems also promise the opportunity for expanded novel pharmaceutical candidates that unlike traditional novel molecules come with highly efficient, ready-made production systems. 

"Until now, the production of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine has involved the use of chemical processes. Plant genes allow the process to be performed entirely by microbial fermentation, which is sustainable, secure and environmentally friendly. Our discovery of the gene and its remarkable performance in engineered microbes was made possible by the strong partnership between Epimeron and the world-leading expertise in gene discovery and biochemistry at the University of Calgary, as well as with support from Innovate Calgary ," stated Professor Peter Facchini, Chief Scientific Officer of Epimeron. 

Dr. Joseph Tucker, CEO and President of Epimeron commented, "We have previously revealed some our progress towards building a commercially scalable fermentative production system for manufacturing opiate APIs and intermediates. Epimeron is now leveraging the expertise developed in that opiate program to expand into the microbial production of ephedra-related APIs". 

"This discovery is another significant step in validating that the microbial fermentation of plant genes can be a viable and commercially attractive method of producing active pharmaceutical ingredients. It is a considerable demonstration that microbial production is possible across other pharmaceutical compounds," stated Dr. John Wilson, Director, Physical and Life Sciences, Innovate Calgary.

Article adapted from a Epimeron Inc news release.

Publication: An N-methyltransferase from Ephedra sinicacatalyzing the formation of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine enables microbial phenylalkylamine production. Morris, JS et al. Journal of Biological Chemistry (June 21, 2018): Click here to view.