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Many proteins produced in CHO cells need evaluation for their clinical and commercial potential. Traditional methods based on stable clone generation are slow and unsuitable for screening larger numbers of proteins, while transient expression technologies are fast but unpredictable regarding product quality and lacking an optional path to subcloning. Therefore, we developed an alternative and innovative solution, the STEP® vector technology, which combines the best properties of both methods. Recently, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Protein Expression and Purification published our findings using this innovative technology. Its properties make it the ideal solution for difficult-to-express proteins. The article describes two difficult-to-express protein case studies from a laronidase (also known as iduronidase) project and a factor VII (formerly known as proconvertin) project.

STEP® technology

STEP® vectors contain a strong transcriptional cassette driving expression of a bicistronic mRNA. The gene-of-interest (GOI) is cloned upstream of a functionally impaired zeocin resistance gene (FI-Zeo) whose translation is coupled to that of the GOI through an IRES. Stable transfected cells surviving zeocin selection produce high levels of FI-Zeo and thus, high levels of the GOI-encoded protein. By using different spacers, the translational coupling efficiency and selection strength can be controlled allowing maximization of expression of any GOI.

The first step is rapid generation of transfected pools with the STEP® vectors. All high expressing surviving pools showed high product quality homogeneity as did monoclonal cell lines obtained from the top pools. Up to 500 μg/mL laronidase was obtained with virtually identical glycosylation profile as reference product. For FVII, cell specific productivity of 0.45 pg/cell/day with 50 IU/μg protein matched highest reported levels of reference product even before process development. Taken together, STEP® vector technology is ideally suited for rapid, small to large-scale production of difficult-to-express proteins compared to traditional methods.


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