The medical field is advancing rapidly with constantly developing ideas and discoveries. In particular there has been a new type of medicine developed which is made from a molecule called constrained peptide. In the coming decade, this will surely come to dominate drug markets as more and more types are introduced.
Constrained peptides have very small portions with extra chemical bonds that constrain the shape of the molecule making them incredibly stable and highly potent. They are found in nature and organisms use them to combat bacteria fungal and viral infections. Some animals like scorpion and snakes use these in their venom to protect themselves from predators or dangers, meaning that this ingredient is biological and very commonly found in the environment. However, the ingenious part of this engineered drug is that the natural base is modified so it combines the best features of biologic and chemical drugs.
Biologic drugs made from proteins include insulin or other antibody drugs and so avoid the side effects that many chemical drugs possess. Chemical drugs interact with parts in your body that you may not want as the drug is small and could bond with more than one substrate. Biologic drugs are big and have a more specific key to interact with an active site, like the ‘lock and key theory’. However, biologic drugs also have a flaw, which is that they are fragile. These drugs are administered by injection as stomach acids could destroy them. Constrained peptide drugs are therefore similar to Chemical drugs in the sense that they are strong and can be delivered using pills.
Scientists realised that it is better to build them from scratch rather than modify the ones found naturally recurring as the modifying part is very sensible. Some molecular engineers developed a freely available open source peptide design software. They are able to produced constrained peptides with hopes that they will be custom tailored for drug development. Each atom’s place is produced at a level of precision that is at the border of what we can measure.
What does this mean for the future? There are constrained peptides that can neutralise influenza viruses, protect against botulism poisoning, and block cancer cells from growing. There are a lot of different possibilities in medicine. Some have been trialed on animals in laboratories and so far they are all safe and highly effective. This technology could enable humans to break free from the constraints of our diseases. In other words, this type of medicine is tailored to each individual disease and even possibly each individual person just as a specific protein fits into a specific active site on the substrate, which means that if we learn the molecular form of a disease we can manufacture a drug that can cure the disease.
Laura L, Year 12