SPOTLIGHT ON INDUSTRY: Dr J.J. Fung, Co-Founder, Director Protein Sciences R&D, ProNovus Bioscience

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Dr J.J. Fung, Co-Founder, Director Protein Sciences R&D, ProNovus Bioscience

What is your background and current job role?

My background is in membrane protein research, with a focus on ABC/SLC transporters and G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). I obtained my Ph.D. in Molecular & Cellular Physiology from Stanford University and performed Postdoctoral work at the Stanford University School of Medicine. I have spent extensive time studying membrane protein structure and function using biophysical methods including FRET and crystallography, as well as characterizing ligand binding in support of drug discovery programs. I co-founded ProNovus Bioscience with a goal of providing solutions for difficult to study membrane proteins. Currently, I am in charge of generating new transporter and GPCR products for drug screening, as well as directing efforts for expressing and purifying membrane proteins for drug discovery campaigns in collaboration with industrial and academic groups.

What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?
A majority of the work we perform at ProNovus Bioscience is in line with several aims of IBBE. In particular, we focus on studying mechanisms by which substrates are transported into and out of cells (ABC and SLC transporters) as well as the effect of these transported substances on cell function via activation of GPCRs. For this, we have generated a variety of unique cell membrane-derived and artificial vesicles to model transport and signalling properties. Furthermore, our scientists have vast expertise (>20 years) in expressing and purifying various membrane proteins that are notoriously difficult to obtain. Our research group has established methods for vector construction, expression and purification from a variety of heterologous sources as well as expertise in assay development for functional characterization of membrane proteins. These methods and know-how at ProNovus Bioscience should be beneficial to various aspects of CBMNet Aims such as (1) improvement of influx/efflux of molecules across membranes (2) hijacking transporters for IBBE, to name a few.

What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years?
Studying membrane proteins is always an issue: even for well-studied members of this super family. With the recent explosion of crystal structures for GPCRs, we are learning excellent methods for expression and purification for this class of proteins. However, the same cannot be said for membrane transporters, where such literature reports are not widely available. Research in this area is lacking and should hopefully improve in the coming years with better understanding of membrane protein expression, purification and stability. This will be an important challenge to overcome in order to exploit transporters for IBBE purposes.

How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?
CBMNet has a strong network of groups interested in membrane transport. We are always looking for partners and collaborators that could use our expertise in membrane protein production and purification, and similarly, learning from members what novel applications there may be for membrane proteins that we work with or may be of interest in the future. CBMNet members interested in our expertise should contact us, we are open to collaborate on joint grant applications or other collaborations that could aid in the missions of CBMNet.

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