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Spin-Off Creates Enzyme to Prevent Celiac Disease

Bread loaves

(TiBine, Pixabay)

20 December 2016. A spin-off enterprise from University of Washington is developing a synthetic enzyme that prevents dietary gluten from triggering symptoms of celiac disease. The company PvP Biologics in Seattle and San Diego is licensing discoveries by the Institute of Protein Design, in the university’s medical school, that company founders say is a result from the institute’s advances in computational design and protein engineering.

Celiac disease is an inherited immune-system disorder where people cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other substances. The immune reaction to gluten causes inflammation in the lining of the small intestine, which prevents absorption of nutrients. Without treatment, inflammation from celiac disease can lead to long-lasting damage in the small intestine, as well as malnutrition, since needed nutrients are not being taken into the body. About 1 percent or 2.4 million people in the U.S.,  have celiac disease.

PvP Biologics’ lead product is KumaMax, a synthetic enzyme first studied at the Institute of Protein Design. Ingrid Swanson Pultz, co-founder of PvP Biologics, credit’s software developed in the institute with paving the way for development of KumaMax. The software, known as Rosetta, makes it possible to design large, complex molecular structures, such as enzymes, from scratch, without starting from a known natural protein.

With Rosetta, says Pultz in a joint company and university statement, “we constructed an enzyme to survive and function in the harsh acidic environment of the stomach and to specifically degrade gliadin, the immunoreactive part of gluten.” Pultz is also a researcher in the institute and developed early versions of KumaMax, which PvP Biologics plans to formulate into an oral drug for people with celiac disease, to break down gluten in the stomach before it reaches the small intestine and triggers an immune response.

Pultz and colleagues received funding support from the university’s Center for Commercialization in 2012 and 2013, and in 2015 won a $250,000 competitive grant from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a program supporting commercialization of health related research in Washington State. That grant, plus matching private donor contributions are funding animal testing and safety studies.

Pultz and institute director David Baker founded PvP Biologics in 2015, which is incubating in CoMotion, the new name for the university’s Center for Commercialization. The company licensed the KumaMax technology in November 2016. Pultz tells more about the company and KumaMax in the following video.

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