“When you meet a brilliant visionary like David Baker, you can’t stand by and just say, ‘Oh, cool,’” says Lyn Grinstein. “We knew that it would be an incredible privilege to get involved and help make it happen.”

What Lyn and Jerry Grinstein and other contributors became involved in was this: a challenge to help raise $4 million for Baker and his colleagues at the Institute for Protein Design (IPD). Secure that, and Washington state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) would provide an additional $1.4 million.

Within six months, they met the challenge, and together, these resources have established a translational research program at the IPD.

In supporting this program, donors are helping underwrite the work that must take place before a discovery moves into the second stage of preparing a marketable medication, one available to patients. And in supporting the IPD, donors are joining one of the newest, most exciting fields in medicine.

Proteins mediate nearly every process in the human body, including disease progression. The ability to design new proteins with specific functions could transform disease diagnosis and vastly improve treatments. For diseases medicine cannot currently treat — such as celiac disease — designed proteins could offer patients significant hope.

This debilitating digestive disorder, an intolerance to the gluten in some grains, afflicts 2.3 million people in the U.S. and accounts for $15–35 billion in health care costs annually. One IPD investigator, Ingrid Swanson Pultz, Ph.D., has developed a set of proteins (variants on an enzyme named KumaMax) that have the capacity to digest gluten. The funding provided by the LSDF challenge was just what she needed to complete some basic research and conduct proof-of-concept studies.

“With additional gap funding, we expect to complete testing and other preparatory work in about a year,” Pultz says. “Then we will spin out Proteus PVP Biologics, the company forming around the KumaMax technology. If we secure venture funding, the most promising enzyme should be ready for initial clinical trials in 2017.”

Baker, the director of the Institute for Protein Design and a UW professor of biochemistry, is tremendously pleased at the success of the LSDF challenge — and what it may bring about.

“Scientists like Ingrid are developing protein designs that have the potential to change medicine in fundamental ways,” says Baker. “And our contributors are fundamental to their work.”

Taking the Challenge

Our thanks to the following contributors and to the Life Sciences Discovery Fund for their generosity to the Institute for Protein Design.

Claire T. Angel, O.D., and Lance Odermat
Jeffrey H. and Susan Brotman
Jerry and Lyn H. Grinstein
Nicolas J. and Leslie G. Hanauer
John A. Huckabay
John W. and Virginia L. Meisenbach

Nathaniel R. and Leslie H. Miles
Bruce A. and Jeannie O. Nordstrom
Laura J. Peterson
James D. and Janet Sinegal
Washington Research Foundation
Two Anonymous Contributors