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Therapeutic Peptides – Has This Emerging Market Grown Up?

Yes – The Peptide Drug Market Has Come of Age.

Peptide drugs are not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. The first approved peptide-based drug – insulin – hit the market about 90 years ago. The first synthetic peptide drug was launched in the 80’s. Since then, the market has grown exponentially. A few years ago, there were 46 peptide-based drugs on the market – and three of them had reached $1B+ blockbuster status.

Though most peptide drugs (aside from insulin) have historically been oncology-focused, research has expanded outward over the last quarter-century to encompass fields as diverse as neuroscience and immunology. In fact, over 650 peptide drugs are currently at the clinical stage – up from 300 just five short years ago.

The Basics: What’s a Peptide?

Peptides are broadly defined as short chains of two or more amino acids (but generally less than 50 to 100), and are between small molecules and proteins in size. Along with proteins, peptides are believed to regulate most functions in the human body. For example, some of the body’s peptides regulate hormones or perform an antibiotic function.

Peptides tend to have high specificity and generally low toxicity. These traits make them valuable as therapeutics, in diagnostics and antibody production, and as tools for unraveling biological processes.

Improving Peptide Drug Delivery Mechanisms

As therapeutics, peptides suffer from some key limitations; chief amongst them is their susceptibility to rapid breakdown – especially in the stomach. Because of their poor absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, peptides have historically been delivered via injection or infusion. But peptide drugs also typically suffer from poor bioavailability and rapid degradation in the bloodstream, once injected.  This limitation can lead to the need for more frequent injections, which can cause adverse effects as peptide levels rapidly increase and decrease in the body.

Strides are being made to change the delivery of peptides to improve their efficacy and potency (read Slow-release ‘jelly’ delivers peptide drugs better). Researchers have also made progress on the non-injection front (read Protein and Peptide drug delivery: oral approaches) in recent years, studying inhalation, oral, intranasal and transdermal approaches.

Advantages of Peptide Drugs

  • Lower toxicity
  • High potency
  • High selectivity

Disadvantages of Peptide Drugs

  • Poor stability
  • Rapid degradation in the bloodstream
  • Susceptible to gastrointestinal breakdown

Why is Interest in Peptides Suddenly Spiking?

Interest in peptide drugs has waxed and waned over the decades, largely due to the lack of technology and knowledge necessary to precisely and affordably synthesize specific peptide chains. Today’s precise control over peptide synthesis and ability to perform large-scale peptide production means that manufacturing capabilities are no longer a chief limitation of peptide drugs, and both research and commercial interest have ramped up.

Peptide Drugs Are Here to Stay

Not only is the peptide market all grown up, it also holds great promise for future therapeutics. The intersection of tremendous advances in technology with our growing understanding of what specific peptides can do has created the conditions for peptide drugs to emerge as a strong class of drugs.

Technology and manufacturing capabilities have evolved and improved.  And with approval success rates comparable to biologics (and much higher than small molecules approval rates), it’s no wonder that today you’d be hard-pressed to find a large pharma company that didn’t have peptides in their R&D pipeline.

Are you working on therapeutic peptides? What is your greatest concern when looking for a peptide production partner?

 

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