Microbial biosynthesis of opioid antagonists: a novel, low-cost method for producing addiction pharmacotherapies

Period of Performance: 04/01/2017 - 03/31/2018


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Antheia, Inc.
Principal Investigator


Abstract Medicinal opioids are essential medicines for treating pain, but exhibit addictive properties. The United States has committed significant resources to curb opioid dependence and overdose. The nal-opioids, a suite of antagonist and mixed partial agonist opioids, are an important group of pharmacotherapies used in drug- addicted patients for treating overdose, managing symptoms during detoxification, and maintenance by blocking reward responses. In pain management patients, nal-opioids are used in combination with opioids to prevent addiction and abuse, and to reduce side effects. Current production methods for nal-opioids are inefficient, expensive, and rely on the farming of a drug crop. The raw starting materials for nal-opioid synthesis are natural opiates that are extracted from opium poppy and subsequently chemically modified through a series of inefficient reaction steps. As a result of the costs associated with this process, nal-opioids command a substantially higher price than opiates that have not been chemically modified. For example, natural morphine active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) retails for ~$1,000/kg, whereas naloxone and buprenorphine cost ~$12,000/kg and ~$28,000/kg, respectively. Antheia?s technology will produce nal-opioids efficiently and at a fraction of the cost of the current production methods. The novel technology allows for total biosynthesis of nal-opioids by yeast fermentation, thereby removing the reliance on drug crop farming and changing the way these life-saving therapeutics are manufactured. Antheia will leverage its existing technology for producing opioids in yeast and extend the biosynthetic capabilities of these strains to include precursors of the nal-opioids, and ultimately the end products naloxone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. Technoeconomic models indicate that Antheia?s unique technology will result in greater than a 10-fold reduction in the cost of producing these compounds. The objective of this Phase I SBIR project will be to develop engineered yeast strains that produce high levels of noroxymorphone, the direct precursor for the nal-opioids naloxone and naltrexone, through whole cell biocatalysis. First, a yeast strain capable of high-level oxycodone biosynthesis will be constructed by the addition and optimization of two enzymatic steps to Antheia?s existing opioid production strains. Second, two novel O-demethylase and N-demethylase enzyme activities will be developed with enzyme evolution and a high-throughput colorimetric screening assay. Finally, the O- and N-demethylase activities will be combined with the optimized oxycodone-producing strain to deliver a novel bioproduction system for noroxymorphone. This project will address major technical barriers to the microbial production of nal-opioids and support the commercial viability of this technology. By addressing much of the technical risk, this SBIR project will enable investor-funded development and scale up, and Antheia?s entry into a new product line to help combat growing opioid abuse and addiction.