Peptides are small proteins, produced naturally in our bodies where they fulfil numerous important physiological functions
Peptides are bioactive and have a greater efficiency and specificity than other small molecules. Therefore, they can be used in vitro for application in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and chemical products. However, this means that tonnes of hazardous waste are being produced each year as a result of the industrial process which uses toxic organic solvents.
The two founders and managing directors of Sulfotools, Dr.-Ing. Christina Uth and Dipl.-Ing. Sascha Knauer developed a clean alternative for the industry – Clean Peptide Technology (CPT). Thanks to this new technology, organic solvents used for peptide manufacturing can now be replaced with water. In November, the spin-off of Darmstadt University is going to pitch its idea live in front of an audience at the finale of the Green Alley Award 2017, a start-up competition around the topic of circular economy.
Read more about the Clean Peptide Technology and the story behind it in this interview
How would you describe your technology to someone without any background in chemistry? What is revolutionary about your idea?
We developed a technology that allows us to synthesize important biomolecules (peptides) in water instead of toxic organic solvents. These biomolecules consist of 2-100 amino acids and are gradually developed in a chemical process. Depending on their biological characteristics they are mainly used as active ingredients in therapeutics, cosmetics and nutrition supply products.
Every year, the industry uses tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic, environmentally hazardous und expensive solvents for the traditional production of these biomolecules. Thanks to CPT, which is based on water-soluble elements for the peptide production, we can completely replace these solvents with water. This not only allows us to reduce the production costs to up to 50 percent but also to minimize risks for people and the environment. Our technology can significantly reduce the amount of hazardous waste and make the use of chemical resources more efficient. On top of that we‘ve developed an efficient purification strategy and a concept for sewage treatment.
What is revolutionary about our discovery is that one of the dirtiest chemical processes can now become a lot more sustainable and resource efficient. Apart from that, it presents a definite cost advantage.
Your technology is the result of a random experiment. What was the actual research objective when you discovered the Clean Peptide Technology?
Sascha Knauer was conducting research for his PhD project on special protective groups for peptide synthesis. One experiment only worked under very brachial conditions (with pure sulfuric acid) and a side product turned out to be the basic component for our Clean Peptide Technology.
Sulfotools is a TU Darmstadt spin-off company. When did you realize that your idea – apart from being an astonishing scientific achievement – had great commercial potential for the peptide synthetizing industry?
A publication of the general director of PolyPeptide Laboratories France, Dr. Olivier Ludemann-Hombourger („The ideal peptide plant“, Speciality Chemicals Magazine, May 2013) describes the ideal process of peptide synthesis und what it needs to make peptide synthesis more sustainable. That‘s why we started contacting renowned companies in the peptide industry and asked if there was an industrial demand for our technology. Thanks to the positive feedback, continuing interest of the industry and many awards from acclaimed contests, we became convinced of the potential of our idea.
How will you convince big companies in the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetics industry to start using your Clean Peptide Technology?
One very important aspect is the European REACH legislation (Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) that classifies the commonly used solvent in peptide synthesis as a substance of very high concern (SVHC).
If a substance is listed, it is subjected to authorization, which means it can only be used when there is an explicit permission for every particular application. The concerned solvents are harmful to human fertility and hazardous to health, so they do indeed imply a significant risk for humans and the environment.
Apart from the big incentive of a potential production cost-cut of up to 50 percent, it is of course desirable, especially in foods and cosmetics, to produce final products free of solvents.
Please complete this sentence: “Circular Economy” for you means…
“Circular Economy” for us means developing and implementing sustainable concepts and technologies, waste prevention, resource regeneration and addressing ecological material disposition. Our Clean Peptide Technology makes it possible to replace organic solvents with water, which reduces the amount of toxic waste, helps regenerate chemical resources and optimizes the usage of reagents.
More information you will find here
Thank you Christina Uth and Sascha Knauer for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.