SPOTLIGHT ON INDUSTRY: Richard Hitchman, Operations Manager, Protein Production, Evotec

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Richard Hitchman, Operations Manager, Protein Production, Evotec

What is your background and current job role?
My background is in baculovirus molecular biology and recombinant protein production. I took my undergraduate degree at Coventry University where I graduated with a first class honours in Applied Ecology. I was then offered a Ph.D. with Professor Robert Possee at the NERC Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology (IVEM) and Professor Linda King at Oxford Brookes University (OBU), investigating genetic variability in baculovirus populations. Following this, I undertook postdoctoral research applying the knowledge gained during my PhD towards improvement of the baculovirus expression system, initially at OBU and then Oxford Expression Technologies Ltd, an OBU spin-out company. Four years ago I moved to Evotec to set up a baculovirus expression facility and I am currently Principal Scientist within the Structural Biology group. My current role is the operational management of the Protein Production team; we carry out novel construct design, protein expression in bacteria and eukaryotic cells, protein purification and analysis, high-throughput protein production and isotope labelling for NMR.

What Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) related project is currently being undertaken by your organisation?
Within Evotec we are working on many IBBE related projects. As a drug discovery alliance and development partnership company most of them are within disease areas such as neuroscience, pain, metabolic diseases, oncology, inflammation and infectious diseases. Protein production is one of the first steps in the drug discovery process and as such we are responsible for ensuring a reliable supply of soluble, active protein of sufficient quantity to provide accurate functional and structural information of the disease-associated proteins. These may be cytosolic, secreted or membrane proteins and each target offer novel challenges in their construct design and production.

What do you think the challenges related to this project are in the next 1-5 years?
Difficult to express proteins are often a bottleneck in early phase drug discovery. Expression levels are generally low, proteins are often misfolded or insoluble and consequently inactive. One of the main challenges is identifying ways to improve the capture of these proteins, with native structure and biological function. Novel production systems and the development of high throughput technologies are areas which could be very beneficial in directing these efforts in the future.

How can other CBMNet members help you and your organisation with your research?
We are always interested in new technologies that can help solve protein production problems; for example, novel expression vectors, new cloning methods, improved expression systems and more efficient chromatography methods. CBMNet is a great way to connect with other researchers in this field and we welcome the opportunity to explore joint grant applications or similar collaborations.

You can contact Richard by emailing him at Richard.Hitchman@evotec.com

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