Inspired by nature’s medicine chest, Olson and colleagues created an entirely new class of drugs: “optimized peptides” or “optides” for short. These tiny molecules can be instructed to bind to particular kinds of cancer cells, disabling only those cells. They also can be attached to chemotherapy drugs, transforming them into precision therapies that spare healthy cells. Optides are also potentially less expensive and more powerful than other next-generation therapies.
Olson and colleagues are developing optides that target some of the most treatment-resistant malignancies: brain cancer, melanoma, breast cancer and tumors of the neck and throat.
While developing new cancer treatments is the primary focus of optides research at Fred Hutch, this new class of drugs also offers the potential to develop new treatments for epilepsy, depression, anxiety and other disorders of the central nervous system, Olson said.
“Optides offer unprecedented accuracy – an entirely new class of drugs that are far less toxic, far more effective and flexible enough to be used in a wide range of applications,” he said.
Using scaffolds from nature to develop drugs is not a new concept; other researchers and drug companies have been interested in creating new drugs using molecules derived from plants and animals. However, most efforts have failed because there have been huge barriers to making thousands of optide variants inexpensively, rapidly and in quantities large enough to conduct scientifically rigorous experiments.
“Our team at the Hutch has overcome six major barriers,” Olson said. He and his collaborators have developed a new optide production system to quickly synthesize thousands of optide variants that can then be evaluated for therapeutic potential.
“Whereas it takes some companies a decade to make hundreds of peptide drug candidates, we can make 12,000 a month and are ramping up beyond that.
“Nature provides the raw materials and we provide the expertise to turn them into lifesaving therapies,” Olson said.
How the public can get involved
- Citizen scientists all over the world can help build Project Violet’s candidate drug libraries by adopting a drug candidate for $100. By choosing from one of six organisms – violet, scorpion, locust, sunflower, spider or human – they’ll also receive an image of their drug molecule.
- The drug candidates will be tested by Fred Hutch scientists for lifesaving properties. If the drug candidate fails at any point, it can be replaced with a new one so the citizen scientist always has a “horse in the race.”
- A drug that shows promise will advance to additional testing with the goal of being evaluated in human clinical trials.
- For more information, visit www.projectviolet.org, email email@example.com or visit Project Violet’sFacebook page.
- To view Olson’s recent TEDxSeattle talk about Project Violet, click here.
Note for media only: Photos of Violet, Olson and images of specific drug candidates are available upon request. To arrange an interview with Olson, please contact Kristen Woodward in Fred Hutch media relations,firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-667-2210.