Project Title

Synthetic protein design for human health and agriculture


Frank Dehne and Ashkan Golshani, Carleton University

Supported by

SOSCIP, IBM Canada Ltd., OCE, FedDev

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Advanced Manufacturing Health

A computer scientist and a biochemist at Carleton University have teamed up to start a company that designs therapeutic peptides derived from human proteins – drugs that may offer a new way of treating complex diseases that no longer respond to treatments.

Profs. Frank Dehne and Ashkan Golshani registered Designed Biologics in February 2016. The company will push development of special small peptides that can target specific proteins involved in various human diseases.

When they first put their heads together at the graduate pub on campus 15 years ago, Prof. Golshani was working in the novel field of systems biology looking for ways to speed up costly time- and energy-consuming protein interaction experiments. 

If you consider each human being has 20,000 proteins, there are 200 million possible combinations of interaction. Prof. Dehne used computations to predict these protein interactions and developed a prediction algorithm based on his hypothesis that smaller sequences of molecules could facilitate some of the protein interactions.

“It turns out there are a lot of these different types of interactions that were being missed,” explains Prof. Dehne. 

The findings may impact a pharmaceutical industry that has traditionally focused on antibody- and chemical-based therapies. 

After calculating the entire 200 million human protein interactions, they may be at the forefront of designing new pharmaceuticals using significantly smaller molecules that can attach to specifically targeted proteins — the culprits causing illnesses.

Designed Biologics continues to leverage SOSCIP’s advanced computing technologies to develop small peptides containing between 30 and 75 amino acids that can hit targets not responding to traditional drugs. These “smart biologics”
will focus on alternative binding characteristics to engage disease-fighting mechanisms in the human body in a new way that should result in fewer side effects for the patient.

The pair announced in October 2016 that Designed Biologics will collaborate with NuvoBio, a subsidiary of Zim Corporation, to implement a unique molecular interaction analytics approach to design small peptide drugs that bind target proteins. The result could be used to treat prostate cancer with fewer side effects.

“In theory, we can target all kinds of cancer with these new designed drugs, as well as inflammation and any complex human disease such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s,” said Prof. Golshani.