Study paves way to design drugs aimed at multiple protein targets at once

December 12, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - An international research collaboration led by scientists at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Dundee, in the U.K., have developed a way to efficiently and effectively make designer drugs that hit multiple protein targets at once.

This accomplishment, described in the Dec. 13, 2012 issue of the journal Nature, may prove invaluable for developing drugs to treat many common human diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder.

These disorders are called complex diseases because each have a number of genetic and non-genetic influences that determine susceptibility, i.e., whether someone will get the disease or not.

"In terms of the genetics of schizophrenia we know there are likely hundreds of different genes that can influence the risk for disease and, because of that, there's likely no single gene and no one drug target that will be useful for treating it, like other common complex diseases," said study co-leader, Brian L. Roth, MD, PhD, Michael J. Hooker Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology in the UNC School of Medicine, professor in the Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and director of the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drug Screening Program.

In complex neuropsychiatric conditions, infectious diseases and cancer, Roth points out that for the past 20 years drug design has been selectively aimed at a single molecular target, but because these are complex diseases, the drugs are often ineffective and thus many never reach the market.

Moreover, a drug that acts on a single targeted protein may interact with many other proteins. These undesired interactions frequently cause toxicity and adverse effects.

"And so the realization has been that perhaps one way forward is to make drugs that hit collections of drug targets simultaneously. This paper provides a way to do that," Roth said.

The new way involves automated drug design by computer that takes advantage of large databases of drug-target interactions. The latter have been made public through Roth's lab at UNC and through other resources.

Basically, the researchers, also co-led by Andrew L. Hopkins, PhD in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, College of Life Sciences, at the University of Dundee, in Scotland, used the power of computational chemistry to design drug compounds that were then synthesized by chemists, tested in experimental assays and validated in mouse models of human disease.

The study team experimentally tested 800 drug-target predictions of the computationally designed compounds; of these, 75 percent were confirmed in test-tube (in vitro) experiments.

Drug to target engagement also was confirmed in animal models of human disease. In a mouse model of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mice missing a particular dopamine receptor engage in recurrent aberrant behaviors similar to what is seen in ADHD: distractibility and novelty seeking. "We created a compound that was predicted to prevent those recurrent behaviors and it worked quite well," Roth said.

The researchers then tested the compound in another mouse model where a particular enzyme for a brain neuropeptide is missing. Distractibility and novelty seeking also are behavioral features in these animals. And the drug had the same effect in those mice.

The new drug design process includes ensuring that compounds enter the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier. These, too, were tested successfully in live animals.

According to Roth, pharmaceutical company chemists had suggested that the objective of a drug hitting multiple targets simultaneously is impossible and unlikely to succeed. "Here we show how to efficiently and effectively make designer drugs that can do that."
-end-
Along with Roth, the study's 21 co-authors include the following from UNC: Vincent Setola, Xi-Ping Huang and Maria F. Sassano. Other co-authors are from University of Dundee, Dundee, U.K.; Duke University Medical School, Durham, N.C.; Clinical Research Institute of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Part of the funding for the research comes from the National Institute of Health grants supporting drug discovery receptor pharmacology.

University of North Carolina Health Care

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.