Conventional therapeutic strategy entails developing small molecules to occupy enzymatically active or regulatory pockets of the target protein, and further inhibit its biochemical activity. However, many disease-relevant proteins, such as RAS, MYC, or b-catenin, lack manageable druggable cavities. Bernardes and colleagues have raised a novel concept to overcome this limitation, named “molecular glues”, in which small molecules induce de-novo interactions between two proteins to modulate protein function. Molecular glues appeared as an elegant tool for targeted protein degradation, allowing simultaneous recruitment of a ubiquitin E3 ligase and the protein to be ubiquitinated. Notably, the potent anti-cancer drugs thalidomide, lenalidomide and pomalidomide (known as IMiDs for immuno-modulatory drugs), are the most prominent example of such E3-hijacking molecular glues, that exert their therapeutic effects through induced degradation of key efficacy targets. Building on these promising observations, herein I propose a designed platform that can rationally identify synthetic chemical matter to induce selective protein dimerization and induce disease-relevant protein ubiquitination and degradation – using ubiquitin E3 ligase and RNA binding protein IGF2BP1 as a proof-of-concept in ovarian carcinoma cells. The identification of complementary interfaces for drug-induced interactions will be achieved by computational prediction, protein-protein interaction assays, and a set of novel biochemical assays, together with high-throughput screening and structure-informed chemical optimization. This proposal will deliver a multi-layered technology to successfully design and validate novel molecular glues in a rational and generalizable way, to revolutionize current inhibitor-centric paradigms in cancer drug development and pharmacology. The strategy can be further transposed to other protein classes in different cancer types, and open an array of new therapeutic opportunities.
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