Yeast cell factory for mRNA bioproduction

Voices of Leading Scientists on the Occasion of Two Years of Yscript – Prof. Chantal Pichon

In April 2022, Yscript embarked on a mission to develop a customised yeast-based messenger RNA factory platform for the large-scale and cost-effective production of mRNA therapeutics. After two years, we now look back together with our leading consortium members on the work done and progress achieved so far.

Read the interview with Prof. Chantal Pichon, Yscript Coordinator and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of Orléans:

The past two years went by quickly, we are in the second half of the project now and a lot of work has already been conducted. What is the status of the work you are conducting in the project? What would you say is the biggest success/breakthrough that has been achieved so far?

“Yes, very quickly indeed! I am very grateful to my partners and all of us for all the work we've put into the tasks outlined in Yscript. We have made real progress on the different work packages of our project and we hope to achieve the proof of concept of the technology by the end of this year. We have begun to tackle the initial challenges of implementing the first strain to enable it to be adapted for industrialisation, and our efforts have paid off in terms of implementing mRNA production, including mRNA structure and accumulation.”

Research projects come with many uncertainties and challenges. What challenges came up in the course of the past two years and how did you manage to overcome them?

“Like any research project, some of our tasks have taken longer to complete, for various reasons related not only to the science, but also to the supply of reagents or materials. As with any other scientific project, there were initial proposals that were not successful, but fortunately most of them have already been taken into account in our risk mitigation plan.”

Looking ahead, what steps are you looking forward to?

“We have now put in place the building blocks needed to construct this breakthrough technology. It's our challenge now to refine them and to combine them to ensure that the whole system operates seamlessly, so that we can demonstrate the proof of concept.”

A challenging project like Yscript is teamwork. Have there been any personal encounters within or outside the consortium in the last two years that have had a lasting impact on you?

“Like many other scientific research teams, we were also faced with the challenge of recruiting highly qualified staff. Most of us are university laboratories and, as such, salaries are capped in accordance with the institution's rules. So, we can't compete with private companies or countries that don't have such rules. I am lucky that the consortium is really working as a whole allowing us to mitigate the situation.”

Yscript is an EIC pathfinder project – how are your experiences with the programme so far? Do you see any difference to other EU funded projects you are involved in?

“This project is quite different to the others because it is full of challenges. It is a high-risk project, so there is no guarantee of feasibility. Also, we are competing with other private companies, that probably have an easy head start in terms of hiring due to their autonomous internal structures. We, on the other hand, are working within the EIC Pathfinder programme to achieve our ambitious research goals with an excellent team of experts and at the same time meet the administrative requirements associated with public project funding.”

Chantal Pichon, Yscript Coordinator and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of Orléans