In theory, the approach sounds quite simple: find a protein that cancer cells absolutely need to survive and develop an active ingredient that initiates the destruction of this protein – and the perfect cancer drug is ready.
A research team at the University of Würzburg has already proven that this approach works in principle. However, because putting it into practice is not quite as simple as it sounds, and because this would go beyond the scope of a typical research project in a university laboratory, those involved have now set about founding a company. As part of the GO-Bio initial funding program, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is supporting them on this path with around 500,000 euros.
Clinical failure after positive results in the laboratory
“We are focusing on the so-called Aurora-A protein – a protein kinase and a promising target in targeted cancer therapy,” explains Elmar Wolf, professor of tumor systems biology at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg (JMU). Earlier studies have shown that in many tumors Aurora virtually gives the starting signal for cancer and is thus one of the main culprits in the development of leukemias and many pediatric tumors such as neuroblastomas.
It is therefore no wonder that intensive efforts are being made worldwide to find a substance that can switch off Aurora and prevent the cancer cells from multiplying unchecked. So far, however, success has been limited:
“Almost all major pharmaceutical companies have developed so-called kinase inhibitors for Aurora-A. Almost all clinical trials with these inhibitors have not been successful.”
– Elmar Wolf
Small molecules lead the cancer trigger to the shredder
Elmar Wolf is convinced he knows the reason for this failure: “We and others have been able to show that Aurora-A has important kinase-independent functions in cancer cells that cannot be inhibited by these inhibitors,” he says. So if you want to stop Aurora-A, you not only have to block its kinase function, you have to make the protein disappear completely. The corresponding active ingredient is to be developed as part of the Go-Bio initial funding measure and the company to be founded.
The scientists are relying on PROTACs (proteolysis targeting chimeras). These are small molecules that bind to target proteins and feed them into the cellular degradation machinery – a kind of “shredder” inside the cell. For Aurora-A, Wolf and his collaboration partner, Professor Stefan Knapp of Goethe University Frankfurt, developed the corresponding molecule a few years ago. JB170 – its scientific name – is one of the first molecules in the PROTAC class of substances to be produced in Germany. With numerous other PROTAC molecules in development, the teams from Würzburg and Frankfurt are among Europe’s leading academic working groups in this field.
Feasibility studies are at the beginning
“The results so far with JB170 as a new therapeutic strategy are very promising and interesting,” says Wolf. However, crucial experiments that clearly demonstrate feasibility still need to be done on the road to commercialization, he adds. Thanks to the Go-Bio initial funding, he says, this is now possible.
This feasibility phase will probably last two years; however, a market-ready product will not be on pharmacy shelves by then. “After the end of the feasibility phase in 2023, we plan to spend about three years on further studies of safety and efficacy and on optimizing the manufacturing process and formulation,” Wolf says. Clinical trials and the approval process could then begin in 2026. If successful, market entry is expected between 2030 and 2032.
If it is indeed possible to develop JB170 into a drug, Wolf expects it to have broad applicability. “We have so far been able to demonstrate the effect of JB170 with great success in leukemia and lung carcinoma cells. In addition, quite a few studies by other research groups suggest that tumors of the intestine, breast and liver are also strongly dependent on the function of the Aurora-A protein,” says Wolf.
Support from the Research and Technology Transfer Service Center
The team also received great support on its way to spin-off from the Service Center for Research and Technology Transfer (SFT) at the University of Würzburg. “There, we had a highly competent contact in Dr. Iris Zwirner-Baier for all questions relating to securing patent rights to JB170 and paths to start-up,” says Elmar Wolf. Thanks to her intensive support, she made a significant contribution to the successful acquisition of the Go-Bio grant.
Recycling technology to increase value of recycled aseptic cartons in Brazil
SIG today announces a BRL 10 million investment in innovative recycling technology that will enable polymers and aluminium from used aseptic carton packs to be recovered and sold separately for the first time on an industrial scale in Brazil. By expanding the range of applications for recycled materials from used aseptic cartons, SIG expects to increase their value by more than 50 percent.
“We are excited to bring to Brazil a new technology that will enable separation of aluminium and polyethylene layers from carton packs, thereby expanding the market for these materials and generating more value from the separated waste,” says Ricardo Rodriguez, President and General Manager for SIG Americas. “This project is the latest in a series of innovative collaborations led by SIG to boost collection and recycling rates for used aseptic cartons and grow the recycling chain in a sustainable way.”
Innovative recycling technology
The renewable paper board that makes up around 75 percent of aseptic carton packs on average can be separated for recycling in paper mills through Brazil’s existing recycling infrastructure. The polyethylene and aluminium mix (polyaluminium or PolyAl) left over from this process can be recycled into a robust material for purposes such as roofing, pallets and furniture.
SIG’s recycling plant will use innovative technology that makes it possible to separate the polyethylene from the aluminium in PolyAl to create a wider market and demand for these recycled materials. Developed over five years with project partner ECS Consulting, the new technology has already undergone a pilot project that proved the effectiveness of the chemical recycling process.
The new recycling plant is currently in construction in the state of Paraná. It is expected to begin operating in 2024 with an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per month. Together with industry partners, SIG has also invested in a plant in Germany to separate polymers and aluminium from PolyAl that went into production in 2021.
Ethical collection programmes
Investing in new technology to create a wider market for recycled materials is an important step in increasing recycling rates for used aseptic cartons. SIG has already led the way with innovative programmes to support two other important steps: collection of used packaging from consumers and separation of that packaging to go into the right recycling streams.
SIG’s so+ma vantagens programme, run in partnership with NGO so+ma since 2018, enables people in underprivileged communities to collect loyalty points for bringing in waste for recycling. The points can then be exchanged for rewards, such as essential food products and skills training. SIG is now expanding this model to promote recycling and bring additional societal benefits to further municipalities in Brazil and beyond.
SIG also promotes public policies for selective waste collection in Brazil, and supports effective infrastructure and decent working conditions for waste collectors’ cooperatives as a seed investor in the Recicleiros Cidades programme. Set up with NGO Recicleiros in 2018, the programme is now operational in 13 municipalities and aims to reach 60 by 2027.
The focus on recycling in Brazil is part of SIG’s global Way Beyond Good commitment to enhance the positive environmental and social impact of its packs throughout their lifecycle.
“At SIG, we are committed to sourcing the materials that go into our packs sustainably. We are already the first aseptic carton producer to source 100 percent FSCTM-certified board and use ASI-certified aluminium,” says Isabela De Marchi, Sustainability Manager for SIG South America. “We are also determined to foster an ethical recycling chain that promotes collection and recycling of our packs after use in a way that supports communities, workers and the environment. The new recycling plant in Paraná takes us a step further on this journey by maximising the retained economic and environmental value of the materials recovered from aseptic cartons.”
Use of renewable energy
The construction of a vast solar installation at SIG’s production site in Linnich, Germany, will see SIG further extend its lead in the beverage carton industry in the use of renewable energy. The 10.25MWp system, made up of 22,300 photovoltaic solar panels, will be the largest photovoltaic system at an SIG plant to date.
“The thousands of solar panels we are installing in Linnich will double our on-site renewable energy capacity in Germany,” said Arnold Schuhwerk, Head of Category Polymers & Energy Global at SIG. “This latest investment shows that SIG is not only committed to continue making its beverage cartons with 100 percent renewable energy, but to continually improve the quality of that renewable energy through physical power purchase agreements.”
Maximising on-site capacity
SIG is already the first and only aseptic carton manufacturer to produce all its packs with 100 percent renewable energy globally since 2018.
The company recently secured physical power purchase agreements that will provide enough renewable energy capacity to power 100 percent of its carton packaging production in Germany from January 2023 – and the Linnich installation will enable more of this to come from its own sites.
Construction has begun on a gigantic ground-standing system of 20,600 panels that will occupy an 80,000 squarer meters area in front of the Linnich plant – that’s the equivalent of 11 soccer fields side by side. A further 1,700 panels will cover the plant’s rooftop to maximise potential to solar power on the site.
As the owner and operator of the Linnich photovoltaic system, Leipziger Stadtwerke will pass on the solar power generated directly to SIG through a long-term power purchase agreement. The power will go straight into the production of SIG carton packs at the site.
“Leipziger Stadtwerke is driving forward the expansion of renewable energies, including working with partners like SIG. The solar installation at the SIG plant in Linnich is another milestone towards the decarbonising of energy systems in Germany,” says Maik Piehler, Managing Director of Leipziger Stadtwerke. “We are pleased to be able to make an important contribution to this. The project is one of the largest photovoltaic self-supply systems with direct connection in Germany that is operated without using the public grid and without any subsidies on industrial land.”
Going Way Beyond Good for climate
SIG already doubled its on-site solar capacity in 2021 to 11.3MWp and plans to triple this again within the next year. The Linnich system will play a big part in this expansion, together with installations in development at other SIG plants in Germany, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
The company’s focus on renewable energy is part of SIG’s Way Beyond Good Climate+ ambition that is driving down value chain carbon emissions for its business and its customers.
Use of renewable energy for carton packaging production has already avoided over half a million tonnes of CO2-equivalent and these savings will continue to grow. The new Linnich installation alone will generate enough renewable electricity to reduce more than 3,150 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.
Commitment to sustainability
EcoVadis, the world’s largest provider of corporate sustainability ratings, has presented Bilfinger SE with a Gold Award for sustainable, ethical and responsible business practices. The Group is thus among the top 5 percent of companies from the more than 100,000 throughout the world that EcoVadis analyzed.
“We are truly proud to receive this award. The results clearly show that the sustainability principle is firmly established in our Group structure and that it is actively embraced by our employees. At the same time, we see the award as an incentive for our future performance”, says Bilfinger Group CEO Thomas Schulz. “The impartial recognition from EcoVadis also serves as confirmation for our process industry customers that with Bilfinger they have a responsible and trustworthy partner at their side ready to help them successfully implement their own sustainability goals.”
The EcoVadis evaluation is based on a comprehensive catalog of questions in which the results of the criteria surveyed are grouped into the four topic areas including environment, labor & human rights, ethics and sustainable procurement. In the most recent survey, Bilfinger improved in both the environment category (from 70 to 80 points), in the labor & human rights category (from 60 to 70 points) and in the sustainable procurement category (from 40 to 50 points). In the ethics category, the same figure as in the previous year (60 points) was achieved. Overall, Bilfinger achieved a score of 68 from a possible 100 points in the annual survey conducted by EcoVadis. The industrial services provider thus surpassed its results from the previous year’s survey by eight points.
Bilfinger has been reporting on its sustainability activities on an annual basis since 2011 and has published an externally-audited non-financial report every year since 2018. In accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and as part of its current Annual Report, the Group has also formulated specific targets for its own carbon footprint in the form of a so-called “Sustainability Commitment”. This commitment calls for CO2 equivalents under Scope 1 and 2 to be successively reduced from around 60,000 metric tons in 2021 to ‘net zero’ by the end of 2030 at the latest.
Bilfinger is also increasingly providing its customers with valuable support to help them achieve their own sustainability goals. The Group’s customers face the challenge of securing their energy supply for the future and significantly reducing their carbon footprint. As a key component of the company’s growth strategy, Bilfinger targets an increase in revenues from energy transition and carbon reduction projects from approximately €500 million in 2021 to around €1 billion by 2024.