Unlocking the potential of peptides – A discovery made at university becomes the foundation of a successful start-up. NUMAFERM GmbH has achieved this with biotechnology that can be used in a variety of ways.
An Introduction To Peptides
Peptides, short chains of amino acids, hold tremendous potential in various fields due to their multiple properties and biological activities. These small yet powerful molecules have captured the attention of scientists and researchers worldwide, offering exciting opportunities in medicine, biotechnology, and beyond. With their ability to act as signaling molecules, hormones, and even antimicrobial agents, peptides have emerged as promising candidates for therapeutic applications and valuable scientific research tools.
In this context, exploring the potential of peptides opens up new avenues for drug development, diagnostics, and understanding complex biological processes. This article delves into the possibility of peptides, highlighting their capabilities, challenges, and promising results, making them an area of active exploration and innovation.
How Do Peptides Work?
Peptides are small protein molecules composed of up to 100 amino acids. They work in many ways. In the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, they are in demand as active ingredients or bioactive additives for creams and ointments. Peptides are also suitable for technical applications, for example for use in adhesives or for coating surfaces.
The great economic potential of peptides has not yet been fully exploited in industry. “The problem is that the production of peptides through chemical synthesis is very expensive,” says Christian Schwarz, one of the two founders of NUMAFERM GmbH. In chemical synthesis, one kilogram of peptide requires many tons of raw materials, including fine chemicals and organic solvents. “This is uneconomical for many industrial applications and, in our view, does not fit into the age of the bioeconomic,” Schwarz continues.
What Is The Importance Of Peptides?
In 2009, as a doctoral student at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU), Christian Schwarz discovered a method that makes it possible to smuggle peptides through the cell wall of a bacterium at the right moment. It is cheaper and more sustainable than chemical synthesis. Many biotechnology companies have been using the genetically engineered bacteria as producers for the production of proteins, the much larger relatives of peptides, for many years.
What Is The Potential Of Peptides?
However, due to their complex structure, proteins can protect themselves from the enzymes inside a bacterium called proteases, whereas the smaller peptides are usually destroyed again by the proteases during production. This is where the technology developed by Christian Schwarz comes in. There is exactly one place that is free of proteases: the immediate vicinity of the bacterium Escherichia coli. The team of researchers led by Christian Schwarz has repurposed the E. coli bacterium. Thus, it can produce the desired peptides in large quantities and then release them into this protease-free environment. Here the products can be easily harvested.
From University To Start-Up
Schwarz was subsequently awarded the German Study Prize for his doctoral thesis and, for the development of new peptide-based products. Initially he began to focus not only on the pharmacological and antimicrobial properties but also on the adhesive forces – i.e. the adhesive properties – of the biomolecules. “The ‘pep2bond’ project was about producing special peptides that can be used to better protect metal surfaces that are difficult to access from corrosion,” says Christian Schwarz. “Such anti-corrosion agents are of great importance in the automotive industry, for example.
However, these agents often do not reach all areas of the manufactured metal parts, or the protective film does not adhere firmly enough.” In the two-year feasibility phase, the Düsseldorf researchers led by Christian Schwarz developed so-called peptide-based bioconjugates together with microbiologists from the consumer goods group Henkel. While the biotechnologists from the University of Düsseldorf provided their peptides as raw materials, the researchers at Henkel coupled the protein molecules to the in-house polymers using click chemistry.
What Are The Properties Of Peptides?
“The peptides ensure that the molecules bind more firmly and specifically to open steel surfaces,” explains Schwarz. The bioconjugates were successfully produced during the feasibility phase. The raw material “peptide” is produced using the innovative bioprocess developed by Christian Schwarz at HHU. In addition, the adhesive peptide was optimized for industrial use in cooperation with Henkel. The Federal Ministry of Research (BMBF) funded the “pep2bond” project as part of the funding measure “New products for the bio-economy” in the exploratory and feasibility phase from 2015 – 2017 with around 540,000 euros In addition to funding from the BMBF, the project also benefited from an Exist funding from the Federal Ministry of Economics.
What Is The Impact Of Peptides?
In 2017, the start-up NUMAFERM GmbH was founded as a spin-off from the University of Düsseldorf by Christian Schwarz and Phillip Bürling as commercial director. “The hardest part was convincing people and organizations to invest in your idea. Research then has to take a back seat because you’re so busy talking to potential financiers,” says Schwarz, explaining the early days of the spin-off. In 2018, NUMAFERM was awarded the highly endowed “Start me up!” Founder’s Prize. The area of application of the peptides is extremely diverse.
Advantages Of Peptide Therapeutics
NUMATIDES deals with the combination of adhesive and antimicrobial effects of peptides. As implant coatings, these should ensure that infections caused by the implant are prevented. In about 5% of patients, such infections lead to serious complications, sometimes fatal. “As far as we know, there are currently no peptide-coated implants available,” says Christian Schwarz. He gives two reasons for this: on the one hand, the formulations must first be developed in order to guarantee the stability of the peptides over several days, and on the other hand, the production of peptides has so far been very expensive. A kilogram of peptide can quickly cost 1 million euros.
Therapeutic Peptides List
With their patented technology, the researchers at NUMAFERM are working on making the production of peptides more economical and reducing production costs by around 95%. Christian Schwarz draws a positive interim balance: “The NUMATIDES project is progressing very well. High-quality peptide libraries have already been developed and the first suitable candidates for BESCHI.
With their patented technology, the researchers at NUMAFERM are working on making the production of peptides more economical and reducing production costs by around 95%. Christian Schwarz draws a positive interim balance: “The NUMATIDES project is progressing very well. High-quality peptide libraries have already been developed and the first suitable candidates for coatings have been identified.” NUMATIDES is being funded with around 870,000 euros from 2019 – 2022 as part of the BMBF’s “KMU-innovativ: Biotechnologie – BioChance” funding measure.
Are Peptides The Future Of Medicine?
Schwarz also sees growth potential for the future. “Peptides are still a greatly underrepresented class of substances. Long-chain peptides in particular, which consist of 30-100 amino acids as building blocks, are difficult and expensive to produce. This is exactly where our NUMAtech technology comes in.” The possible applications of peptides are diverse and the entire spectrum seems far from being explored. “Especially in the field of vaccines, we expect a strong stimulus for peptides. For example, the currently successful clinical trials in the context of COVID-19 are based on stimulating the immune system with peptides.”
What Is The Power Of Peptides?
Peptides play a crucial role in various biological processes and exhibit diverse functions and powers. Here are some of the capabilities of peptides:
Peptides act as signaling molecules in the body, carrying messages and instructions between cells and tissues. They can regulate physiological processes such as growth, development, metabolism, and immune response.
Many essential hormones are peptides, including insulin, glucagon, growth hormone, and oxytocin. These hormones are essential in regulating blood sugar levels, growth, metabolism, and reproductive functions.
Peptides are involved in intercellular communication, facilitating the transmission of signals between cells. They can influence cell behavior, mediate immune responses, and regulate tissue repair and regeneration.
Some peptides possess antimicrobial properties, which can kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. These antimicrobial peptides are part of the body’s defense mechanisms against infections.
Skin Health and Anti-Aging
Certain peptides have been found to benefit skin health and help reduce the signs of aging. They can promote collagen production, improve skin elasticity, and contribute to a more youthful appearance.
Peptides have gained attention as potential therapeutic agents due to their specificity, low toxicity, and high biological activity. They can be developed as medications to target specific diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders.
Peptides serve as valuable tools in scientific research. They are used to study protein-protein interactions, receptor-ligand binding, and cellular signaling pathways. Peptides also play a role in developing diagnostic tests and drug discovery.
It’s important to note that the powers of peptides vary depending on their specific sequence, structure, and biological context. Peptides are a diverse and versatile class of molecules with significant potential for various applications in medicine, biotechnology, and basic scientific research.
What Are The Limitations Of Peptides?
While peptides have many valuable properties and applications, they also have limitations. Here are some of the limitations of peptides:
- Stability: Peptides can be susceptible to degradation by enzymes and proteases, both inside and outside the body. Ultimately, it can limit their stability and effectiveness as therapeutic agents, requiring specific modifications or delivery systems to enhance their strength and bioavailability.
- Oral Bioavailability: Peptides are generally not well-absorbed when taken orally. They can be broken down by digestive enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract, making it challenging to develop oral peptide medications. Alternative delivery methods, such as injections or inhalation, are often required.
- Size and Complexity: Peptides are relatively small compared to proteins but more significant and complex than small molecules. This complexity can make their synthesis more challenging and costly. It can also limit their ability to cross cell membranes or reach specific bodily targets.
- Target Specificity: While the specificity of peptides is often considered an advantage, it can also be a limitation. Peptides typically interact with their targets through specific binding sites, which means they may have limited efficacy against target variations or mutations. It can make it challenging to develop broad-spectrum peptide-based therapies.
- Manufacturing and Cost: The synthesis of peptides can be complex and time-consuming, requiring specialized equipment and expertise. It can contribute to higher manufacturing costs compared to small-molecule drugs. As a result, peptide-based therapies may be more expensive and less accessible to patients.
- Immunogenicity: Peptides can sometimes be recognized as foreign molecules by the immune system, leading to an immune response. This immunogenicity can limit their therapeutic use and may require additional modifications or strategies to mitigate immune reactions.
- Limited Oral Delivery Options: As mentioned earlier, oral delivery of peptides is challenging. Developing effective and safe oral delivery methods for peptides remains an active research and development area.
Despite these limitations, ongoing research and advancements in peptide chemistry, formulation, and delivery are continuously.
What Are The Benefits Of Peptides?
Peptides offer a range of benefits that contribute to their growing significance in various fields. Here are some of the key benefits of peptides:
- Targeted Activity: Peptides can exhibit high specificity and selectivity for their targets, allowing for precise modulation of biological processes. They can interact with specific receptors, enzymes, or biomolecules, offering a tailored approach to therapeutics and diagnostics.
- Diverse Biological Activities: Peptides possess many biological activities, including hormone regulation, enzymatic activity, antimicrobial properties, cell signaling, and tissue repair. This versatility opens up opportunities for therapeutics that can address various diseases and conditions.
- Low Toxicity: Peptides are generally well-tolerated and less toxic than many traditional small-molecule drugs. They can be derived from naturally occurring proteins and amino acids, reducing the risk of adverse effects and enhancing patient safety.
- High Potency: Despite their smaller size compared to proteins, peptides can exhibit high potency and biological activity. They can elicit robust cellular responses, making them practical tools for modulating biological pathways and processes.
- Modifiability: Peptides can be chemically modified to enhance their stability, bioavailability, and target specificity. These modifications can include adding protective groups, altering amino acids, or conjugating with other molecules, allowing for optimizing their pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties.
- Potential for Oral Delivery: While peptides generally face challenges in oral delivery, advances in peptide formulation and delivery technologies are being explored. With appropriate modifications or delivery systems, some peptides show promise for oral administration, enhancing patient convenience and compliance.
- Diagnostic Applications: Peptides can serve as valuable tools in diagnostic applications. They can be used to develop sensitive and specific diagnostic tests, such as peptide-based biomarkers or peptide-based imaging agents, aiding in the early detection and monitoring of diseases.
- Peptide-Based Therapeutics: Peptides have shown great potential as therapeutics for various conditions, including metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and infectious diseases. Their high specificity, low toxicity, and diverse mechanisms of action make them attractive candidates for drug development.
These benefits, coupled with ongoing advancements in peptide synthesis, modification techniques, and delivery systems, continue to expand peptides’ potential applications and impact in various fields, promising improved diagnostics, personalized medicine, and innovative therapeutic approaches.