Project Impact Analysis Report
Industry Meeting with Antibody Analytics
Following initial research into the impact of our chosen project, we found that there was little literature around the impact of stabilised mAb in the body. There were, however, questions raised about the safety of such a drug, including unforeseen consequences of drug interactions, and potential difficulties with the stabilised mAb breakdown within the body.
To gain an industry perspective on our project we reached out to Edinburgh-based biological company Antibody Analytics - leaders in the development and interpretation of biological assays. We spoke to their Technical Director Dr. Knowling about the benefits that an isopeptide bond could bring to mAbs, as well as if he thought that the company would screen for an isopeptide bond in the future. Dr. Knowling acknowledged the huge impact a stabilised mAb could have, citing as reference disasters such as hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where the lack of electricity, and subsequent lack of refrigeration, caused the widespread spoilage of medication and diagnostic assays.
This meeting highlighted to us the huge impact a stabilised mAb could have, beyond the scope of just therapeutics. Consequently, we began to look at refocusing our project as a proof of concept, rather than having one set goal. The impact on improving diagnostic assays was an idea we particularly wanted to explore much further, as we had not fully considered the many ways this could improve peoples’ lives. Overall, this initial meeting set in motion how we approached the idea behind our project, and it influenced how we approached our impact analysis report.
Following the completion of our 10-week summer project, we organized another meeting with Antibody Analytics, to discuss our findings and the future that our project could take in industry. Dr Knowling again acknowledged the lack of research surrounding stabilising mAbs, as generally after humanising the mAb, research teams do not explore much further. He acknowledged the positives in getting soluble proteins, and suggested that with limited time and resources, another way to screen for possible soluble proteins in vivo would be using random primers to generate a library, transform, and assess solubility through growth in 96 well plates.
We also spoke about the lack of current research surrounding stabilising mAbs through the introduction of a bond, which may impact the future work on this, as there is not much support for this research. However, Dr. Knowling impressed on us that the ability to take on a project and not make the same mistakes, you will get to the answer much quicker. For next steps, Dr. Knowling emphasised that getting unexpected results did not necessarily signal a failed project, and he encouraged us to record what we had found, what had not worked, and what a future team could do to develop this project further.
Synthetic Biology Discussion Forum
The aim of this discussion forum was to open a conversation with the public about our project, and to get an understanding of how they viewed synthetic biology more generally. Following a short introduction on the differences between synthetic biology and genetic engineering, we presented our project to the public, as well as giving more context to the emphasis on good ethical practice through a presentation from our supervisor Dr. Kirsten Bentley on synthetic virology.
After these presentations, the attendees were encouraged to speak to their neighbours about their thoughts of our project and what they understood about synthetic biology. In these mini groups the attendees wrote down 3 comments or questions that would be used as prompts for the discussion. The questions dealt not only with our project but lead to discussions on wider issues. Examples of the questions raised include: ‘DNA sequences of dangerous things are sent to companies for manipulation, could bio-terrorists do the same?’; ‘What does AI have to do with synthetic biology’; ‘Is synthetic biology going too far for example with genetic screenings and personalized medicine?’.
We found that the subject of personalised medicine came up frequently. We spoke about both the benefits of targeted medicine and the drawbacks of biobanks, giving the attendees more information for them to form their own opinions. A theme that was very prominent from the public was a question that they thought was important to ask for a synthetic biology project: just because we can do something, that does not mean that we should. Another key takeaway from this discussion was the enthusiasm from the public about the potential for reducing wastage of unused or incompletely used treatments and assays. The concept of increasing shelf-life of treatments was something they felt very strongly would be a positive impact.
During the forum we were also able to learn more about the current general understanding of monoclonal antibodies. Most of the attendees were unsure about what exactly immunotherapies are, although some knew about mAbs in the context of cancer drugs. There were common misunderstandings as to what stabilised mAbs could be applied to, an attendee confused this as universal, questioning if HIV drugs could also be improved in this way. From this misconception we realised that how we presented the information about of project was not satisfactory, we had not reached a balance between making the content accessible for the general public and explaining the applications of the project fully.
We used this feedback when considering our wiki. We had already investigated how to make our wiki more accessible, in terms of the colour scheme and how to locate things. However, following our public discussion forum, we really wanted to emphasize the accessibility of our project so that the general public understand the impact it could have on society.
To do so we have decided to create a video to post on YouTube that presents the information at an entry level - explaining the goals and the science behind the projects. This would focus on accessibility two-fold: the videos having subtitles and images instead of strictly text, and the videos summarising the information for the public and presenting it in a clear manner.