Natural interferon is widely used to treat a number of different cancers, but its effectiveness is rather modest. Weizmann Institute scientists have now succeeded in engineering a new version of interferon whose activity is 100 times stronger than that of the natural molecule.
Prof. Gideon Schreiber of the Institute’s Biological Chemistry Department was originally interested in a basic research question concerning interferons: How do these proteins produce two different kinds of effects inside the cell – either serving as the body’s first line of defense against viral infection or inducing programmed cell death, called apoptosis? Schreiber revealed that the different types of activity stem from the way interferon binds to its receptor. Moreover, his team identified the precise amino acids and structural features that affect the binding.
The scientists then created versions of interferon with different degrees of binding ability and different types of activity: They manipulated the interferon-receptor bond by replacing various amino acids in the interferon’s binding site and then testing the resulting interferon versions. Using this approach, they managed to create an interferon molecule, called YNS, that binds to cellular receptors much more strongly and, in a laboratory dish, is 100 times more effective than natural interferon at triggering the death of cancer cells. The scientists then found that the YNS molecule effectively eliminated human breast cancer cells in laboratory mice, while the natural interferon did not.
Yeda Research and Development Company, the Institute’s technology transfer arm, has patented the YNS molecule. If the new interferon proves sucessful ateliminating cancer cells in humans, it could be developed into an effective anti-cancer drug.
Prof. Gideon Schreiber’s research is supported by the Clore Center for Biological Physics; the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly; and Mr. and Mrs. Yossie Hollander, Israel.