UC Berkeley partners with major pharmaceutical company Novartis to target ‘undruggable diseases’

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Researchers from UC Berkeley and major pharmaceutical company Novartis are collaborating to develop new drugs for diseases currently unable to be targeted by drugs.

The virtual center will use chemoproteomic technologies to develop new treatments for cancer and infectious diseases by finding new drugs against the proteins that cause these diseases, according to Daniel Nomura, director of the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies and a campus associate professor of chemistry and nutritional sciences and toxicology.

“Proteins do everything from transporting oxygen to making your muscles to helping you think,” said Jamie Cate, campus professor of molecular cell biology and chemistry, who is also unaffiliated with the center. A lot of human diseases are based on making too much of a particular protein or not enough.”

According to Nomura, drugs target proteins and bind to them to affect certain functions, such as how aspirin inhibits inflammation. For more than 90 percent of proteins, however, scientists don’t know if the proteins have pockets that small molecules can bind to, which makes drugs impossible to use against these proteins.

Chemoproteomics can both identify the pockets within these proteins and also create the molecules to target them, an innovation which could lead to new drug treatments, Nomura said. Nomura’s group has already published a paper targeting a protein to suppresses breast cancer using chemoproteomics.

“What he’s using is a way to figure out how to get chemical handles to grab on to particular proteins in say human cells in ways that no one else has somehow figured out how to do to,” Cate said.

Nomura was unable to disclose how much money would be involved in the project.

The center, which began in July, encompasses Novartis as well as other UC Berkeley researchers such as Dean Toste, Chris Chang and Tom Maimone, according to Nomura.

“Think of a disease and we can go after it using this technology. … The goal of the center is to really develop the technologies we currently have but advance those technologies,” Nomura said. “As we do this, we’re going to constantly be discovering new targets for cancer and other types of diseases.”

Hyunkyu Michael Lee is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @_HyunkyuL.