You probably shouldn’t compare a carefully engineered protein — one that made it to the pages of Nature not long ago — to a peanut M&M. Still, that’s how I started my interview with two of the lead authors on the Nature paper: Marc Lajoie, Ph.D., and Gabe Butterfield.
“Yeah, okay, maybe I would step that back,” said Butterfield kindly.
Butterfield is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington; Lajoie is a post-doc. They both work in the lab of David Baker, Ph.D., and they and other researchers at the IPD design new proteins, not found in nature, to solve intractable problems in medicine and other fields.
In their case, the intractable problem is delivering drugs — especially drugs with terrible side effects, like chemotherapies — to target disease more precisely and effectively, and with less harm to the patient.
“Drug delivery, in general, is a major limitation for medicine. Eight out of 10 of the top-selling drugs are biologics — made out of proteins. And all of them focus on extra-cellular targets,” said Lajoie. Getting the drugs into cells, he says, is another thing entirely.
“If you could do that very well, that could change the world of drug development,” Lajoie said.