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New Seattle Startup Emerges from UW to Develop Cancer-Fighting Protein Three Decades in the Making

By January 11, 2019No Comments

For 30 years, scientists have been trying to unleash the promise of Interleukin-2 (IL-2), a powerful protein that fights cancer but is highly toxic. Researchers at the University of Washington may finally have done it, and they’re launching a startup to make a commercial version.

The breakthrough is described in a paper published in the journal Nature by researchers at the Institute for Protein Design at the UW and their co-authors.

“Interleukin-2 is one of the master mediators of the immune system,” Daniel-Adriano Silva, a lead author of the paper, said in an interview. Unfortunately, toxic side effects have severely limited the use of this protein powerhouse to fight disease. Currently, IL-2 is approved for the treatment of melanoma and renal cell carcinoma, where it cures 5 to 10 percent of patients.

“The problem is that it comes with such acute toxicity that the patients have to be treated in the intensive care unit,” said Silva.

Silva and his collaborators set out to create a manmade version of IL-2 that could do the job of stimulating T-cells to attack tumors without the toxic side effects. They used a protein design program called Rosetta to make a molecule that bound to the two receptors on T-cells but lacked a third, which is thought to cause the harm.