The Catalan biotech enterprise Iproteos, promoted by IRB Barcelona and the University of Barcelona, will apply new strategies to discover drugs with greater efficiency and fewer side effects.
In spite of the many scientific advances made in recent years, the identification of new inexpensive, efficient drugs with low toxicity continues to be one of the challenges for the pharmaceutical industries. Iproteos, funded by Teresa Tarragó, researcher at IRB Barcelona and Ernest Giralt, coordinator of the Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Programme at IRB Barcelona and senior professor of the University of Barcelona, seeks to find next-generation drugs that meet these characteristics.
Iproteos, created by IRB Barcelona and the University of Barcelona involving significant participation by the Bosch i Gimpera Foundation (part of the same university), will focus its efforts on the search for peptides that block the activity of certain kinds of cell components, called proteases, whose deregulation is at the basis of many diseases, including cancer, infectious diseases and mental illnesses.
The small size of traditional drugs allows them to bind to many cellular components and this often causes side effects. To overcome this problem, the last twenty years has witnessed the development of protein-based drugs – second generation drugs -, including antibodies, which are intensively used in the treatment of several kinds of cancer. Although much more expensive than traditional drugs, protein-based agents have the advantage that their larger size allows greater specificity and produces fewer side effects. Protein-based drugs are obtained from genetically modified organism, which implies costly purification systems to ensure that they are free of toxic contaminants.
Iproteos will focus on third generation drugs, these based on molecules called peptides, which are at the interface between the drugs used traditionally and proteins. “The intermediate size of the peptides will allow treatments of diseases with equal specificity and selectivity as protein drugs and at a similar cost to traditional treatments”, explain Tarragó and Giralt. Also, the chemical synthesis of peptides in the lab will increase their biosafety and reduce the chances of unwanted immune responses in patients.
Iproteos will focus its efforts on the search for peptides that block the activity of proteases, key therapeutic targets for the treatment of a wide range of diseases. With this purpose, Tarragó and Giralt will combine their wide research experience in peptides and proteases with in silico design techniques for new drugs and cutting-edge technology in peptide synthesis.
The company has been set up based on a technology transfer within IRB Barcelona and the UB. According to its founders, in three years they could have the first peptide drug candidate that is suitable to enter the corresponding clinical assays.