Partnership to Push Peptide Research Forward in Boston

research in medical field

Partnerships have been big news lately, with the latest being Novo Nordisk announcing this week that a research collaboration has been initiated with the Langer Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for what is hoped to be the next generation of drug delivery devices for the administration of peptides.

According to Novo Nordisk the aim of the research collaboration, which is to be conducted at both MIT in Boston, US and at Novo Nordisk’s research facilities in Måløv and Hillerød, Denmark, is to develop the next generation of drug delivery devices as an alternative to parenteral or injection-based delivery of peptides.

For those who don’t know, according to the Peptide Guide, a peptide is a chemical compound containing two or more amino acids (amino acid polymers) that are coupled by a peptide bond. This bond is a special linkage in which the nitrogen atom of one amino acid binds to the carboxyl carbon atom of another.  Peptides are often classified according to the number of amino acid residues. Oligopeptides have 10 or fewer amino acids. Molecules consisting from 10 to 50 amino acids are called peptides. The term protein describes molecules with more than 50 amino acids.

Experts say Peptide research on drug design and drug discovery is one of the most promising fields in the development of the new drugs.  Peptides have a wide range of applications in medicine and biotechnology. They regulate most physiological processes, acting at some sites as endocrine or paracrine signals and at others as neurotransmitters or growth factors.

Peptide drugs are either naturally-occurring peptides or altered natural peptides. If a patient does not naturally produce a peptide that they need, this peptide can be synthesized and given to them. In addition, the amino acids in an active peptide can be altered to make analogues of the original peptide.

Insulin was the first therapeutic protein to be introduced to treat insulin-dependent diabetes in the 1920s. There are sixty FDA approved peptide drugs in the market. About 140 peptide drugs are in clinical trials and over 500 are in pre-clinical development.

A number of peptides are also used for diagnostic purposes, for example C-peptide is used to monitor insulin production and to help determine the cause of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

For those of you looking for a new career in the Research and Development field, part of the collaboration announcement included that fact that the partnership will establish a number of research positions to be hosted by the Langer Laboratory and funded by Novo Nordisk. The initial term of the collaboration is three years with the option to extend for up to three additional years.

Professor Robert Langer’s laboratory are world-leading experts in creating new approaches for delivering drugs such as peptides and proteins across complex barriers in the body such as the blood-brain barrier, the intestine, the lung and the skin. Together with Dr Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Harvard Medical School, and research affiliate of MIT, they will lead a team in the development of a platform enabling the oral delivery of peptides, according to Novo Nordisk.

There are many challenges of developing and producing a reliable peptide delivery vehicle. They include avoiding premature degradation in the body, overcoming poor peptide transport over epithelial barriers, limiting variability of absorption (caused, for example, by interaction with food in the stomach), and producing both peptide and the delivery vehicle in sufficient scale and numbers cost-effectively. If these challenges can be overcome, as recent research suggests, drug delivery devices hold great therapeutic promise for a plethora of diseases where patients need to take frequent injections.

“Drug delivery devices hold great potential and I am looking forward to this exciting research collaboration with one of the world’s leading drug delivery laboratories,” says Peter Kurtzhals, senior vice president and head of global research at Novo Nordisk.

Robert Langer, professor and head of the Langer Laboratory at MIT, says, “We are very excited to be doing research sponsored by Novo Nordisk to address one of the current greatest challenges in drug delivery”.

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Lindsey McCoyLindsey McCoy MPA, is an Executive Medical Recruiter and former Executive Director in the not for profit sector.

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