Novel method may improve certain chemotherapies and antiviral drugs

Proteins are used to treat a variety of diseases, including leukemia, melanoma, and chronic hepatitis C. However, the properties of such drugs can be problematic. They are often metabolized quickly, necessitating frequent injections for patients, and they tend to be thermally unstable, requiring constant refrigeration.

Hidde Ploegh

Whitehead Institute Member Hidde Ploegh

Maximilian Popp, a graduate student in the lab of Whitehead Member Hidde Ploegh, has developed a novel method that could improve the performance of these protein therapy drugs. Popp’s technique uses an enzyme known as sortase A to site-specifically modify the proteins, which increases the drugs’ potency and thermal stability.

“In the course of this work, the first author of the paper, Maximilian Popp, together with other members of the lab, has put together a nice palette of sortase-based techniques that now allow us to modify a large variety of different proteins and equip them with properties and behaviors that cannot be easily specified by more standard molecular biological techniques,” says Ploegh. “I see the value of these approaches first and foremost in their general applicability and ease of use.”

Two common protein-therapy drugs that may be improved by this method include Neupogen®, used to boost white blood-cell count to help immunocompromised patients fight off infection, and Proleukin®, used to treat the metastatic forms of melanoma and kidney cancer.

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