Cancer treatments cut from a safer cloth

Many cancer treatments are effective but come with side effects so severe that patients can’t continue therapy. Dr. Hien-Anh Nguyen and her team at Enzyme by Design are developing a biologic sourced from mammalian enzymes far less likely to trigger the deleterious immune response prompted by existing drugs.

Tell us about the research behind Enzyme by Design…

Enzyme by Design is developing safer anti-cancer drug candidates from proteins and biologics. We use our core expertise in structure biology and rationale design to engineer out the undesired non-specific activity toxic to normal cells.

Current biologics come from proteins foreign to the human body and trigger immune responses. We seek to replace those bacterial enzymes with less immunogenic enzymes. Using mammalian enzymes, we came up with a lead biologic that shares more than 80 percent identity to the human enzyme versus only 25 percent in bacterial cases. Such a drug is predicted to have less immunogenic toxicity than current bacterial competitors.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

One of the most challenging problems in oncology drug development is selecting drugs that eradicate cancer cells but spare normal cells. Many of today’s drugs are effective, but can be so toxic that patients can’t complete the prescribed therapy.

How could it one day impact patient’s lives? 

These drug candidates could one day help patients that can’t tolerate existing cancer treatments. Specifically for pediatric patients, it could save them from the potential long-term side effects associated with these drugs.