Focus Areas and Research Themes

PROTEO’s unifying theme is understanding the relationship between the protein structure and biological function. Rather than focussing on empirical identification (mapping), researchers within PROTEO strive to understand how structure influences function and how structural modifications can modulate the function of proteins that are relevant to the agro-food and health sectors, to the area of sustainable development and many other sectors. To this end, PROTEO brings together scientists with complementary expertise, an essential condition to undertake high impact research in protein science.

PROTEO has identified pivotal themes that rely on the synergistic action of several research groups. PROTEO funding is used to strengthen, to improve and to accelerate these programs while fostering the capacity of members to innovate in their respective fields. Given the members’ expertise, their complementarities and the potential synergy, collaborative research efforts fall into two major focus areas: Quality of life, and Sustainability. These fall into five research themes where important breakthroughs are expected. For each theme, key projects benefiting from PROTEO’s multidisciplinary environment are targeted. For more information, refer to the Scientific Teams section detailing the research interests of each member.

Quality of life

Theme 1. Bioactive Molecules

To modulate the activity of proteins and enzymes of therapeutic value and to validate their potential as targets, it is vital to have access to libraries of small molecules with the potential to interact selectively with target proteins/enzymes. Thanks to the participation of synthetic chemists and specialists in bioinformatics, we perform the in-silico design of compounds that can act as specific modulators of the proteins of interest. Synthetic access to those molecules allows essential validation and leads to significant discoveries, while enabling the identification of new chemical entities offering therapeutic potential.

Theme 2. Protein Biomarkers and Targets

It is vital to identify new therapeutics targets that will help curb the emergence of new pathologies and increasingly resistant microorganisms. Furthermore, it is universally accepted that early diagnosis greatly increases chances of recovery and reduces healthcare costs. PROTEO contributes to the development of new biodiagnostic approaches and to the identification of new, reliable biomarkers linked to various pathologies. PROTEO’s research scientists offer the full palette of expertise required to make key contributions to the identification of new targets (identification, production, purification, structural and biophysical characterization, chemical synthesis), and are thus strategically positioned to discover unique biomarkers and to develop new diagnostic tools.

Theme 3. Biologicals and Biosimilars

The pharmaceutical world has changed radically over the past 25 years. The current pharmacopoeia predominantly includes therapeutic proteins (antibodies, replacement proteins, therapeutic proteins, synthetic vaccines) that are produced through biotechnology and defined by the generic name of biologicals. Protein-based drugs are flourishing and are seeing increasing clinical application. Moreover, the end of legal protection for several biologics has led to a frantic race in the development of generic versions, called biosimilars. The biologics revolution calls upon a diversified research expertise and a highly-skilled workforce to develop this industry that differs extensively from the world of small molecule drugs. PROTEO researchers have the specialized tools and the knowledge base to characterize biologics and biosimilars, and to promote the development of this new era in pharmaceutical advances.


Theme 4. Biocatalysis

The in vitro application of enzymes as biocatalysts requires the identification and engineering of enzymes to enable their efficient function with various substrates of interest and under process conditions. Optimizing the stability and the activity of biocatalysts requires the concerted efforts of specialists who design, engineer and produce improved enzymes. Caracterization of structure, stability and kinetic parameters under process conditions must be acheived. Immobilization of enzymes on solid supports may be required, to allow recovery and reuse. PROTEO is strategically positioned to develop the biocatalysts required for several industrial sectors, from the biomass degradation to the production of bioactive molecules.

Theme 5. Bioprocesses

Biocatalysts can be exploited for synthesis directly in their cellular environment in bioprocesses. Synthetic biology is increasingly applied to assemble several enzymes into cellular systems that perform complex, controlled chemical transformations and generate high-value-added products. There is a wealth of opportunities to develop efficient bioprocesses with the collaboration of protein experts. PROTEO research scientists are already at work in this field and the network is in a strong position to lead the development of the bioprocessing sector in Quebec.