Protein-slaying drugs could be the next blockbuster therapies

Researchers are hijacking the cell’s protein-disposal system in the fight against Alzheimer’s and intractable cancers.

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When Craig Crews first managed to make proteins disappear on command with a bizarre new compound, the biochemist says that he considered it a “parlour trick”, a “cute chemical curiosity”.

Today, that cute trick is driving billions of US dollars in investment from pharmaceutical companies such as Roche, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline. “I think you can infer that pretty much every company has programmes in this area,” says Raymond Deshaies, senior vice-president of global research at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California, and one of Crews’s early collaborators.

The drug strategy, called targeted protein degradation, capitalizes on the cell’s natural system for clearing unwanted or damaged proteins. These protein degraders take many forms, but the type that is heading for clinical trials this year is one that Crews, based at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, has spent more than 20 years developing: proteolysis-targeting chimaeras, or PROTACs.

By: Megan Scudellari/Nature News

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