Novartis and UC Berkeley collaborate to tackle ‘undruggable’ disease targets

September 28, 2017

photo of blood sample being taken

(Photo courtesy of Novartis)

For Immediate Release
Berkeley, CA & Basel, Switzerland

The University of California, Berkeley has joined forces with pharmaceutical giant Novartis to establish a new research collaboration aimed at unlocking difficult drug targets to accelerate the discovery of new medicines in areas such as infectious diseases and cancer. The outcome will be development of next-generation therapeutic technologies to pursue the vast number of disease targets in cancer and other illnesses that have eluded traditional small-molecule compounds and are currently considered "undruggable."

This exciting collaboration will generate the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies combining Novartis' expertise in chemical biology with Berkeley's expertise in covalent chemoproteomics. "Novartis specializes in pioneering new therapeutic paradigms, creating definitive medicines for life-threatening diseases," said Jay Bradner, President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. "Our Berkeley alliance powerfully extends our ability to advance the discovery of molecules aimed at historically inaccessible drug targets."

The new center will be based in existing labs at Berkeley, and includes support for joint research projects between Novartis and a team of Berkeley scientists. "Never before have we been able to explore what we call the proteome, the totality of over 20,000 proteins in the body, with such breadth, depth and speed," said covalent chemoproteomics expert Daniel Nomura, Director of the Center and Associate Professor of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at Berkeley. "Combining technology advances in proteomics and chemistry allows us to imagine creating compounds to bind every known protein in the body, especially those underlying serious diseases such as cancer."

The alliance will also explore the potential of emerging therapeutics known as degraders, which involve the use of bifunctional molecules that bind to disease targets on one end and on the other end to a key component in a cell's natural protein-disposal system. The collaborators plan to test whether the covalent chemoproteomics technology could aid in reducing the time required to create potential degraders from years to months.

"Traditional drug compounds bind to proteins at places that cause them to malfunction, but many disease targets lack these functional binding locations," said John Tallarico, Head of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics at NIBR. "Degraders are different because they can bind to disease targets at non-functional sites and trigger the destruction of the target proteins, resulting in the interference of their function."

"We welcome this exciting new collaboration with Novartis to the UC Berkeley campus. This partnership allows for opportunities to advance important chemoproteomics research which can have far-reaching outcomes for human health across the world," stated College of Chemistry Dean and Gilbert Newton Lewis professor Douglas Clark. "The Berkeley research team is at the cutting edge of this area, and their collaboration with Novartis promises to produce new breakthroughs."

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