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Beyond COVID-19: What Else in Happening in Pharma?

Around the world, pharma and biopharma – along with all of the supporting industries, from suppliers and research organizations to outsourced providers – have been exclusively focused on COVID-19. With good reason – since its impacts are being felt in virtually every aspect of our lives…social, political, economic and beyond.

The conversations usually range from discussions centered around vaccines, to treatments, to the ancillary issue of too-long supply chains increasing the risk of drug shortages or other issues.

Non-COVID-Related Business Moves On
While the life sciences industry as a whole rose to the challenges posed by the pandemic, believe it or not, other science continues to move forward. So – as a (partial) break from our coronavirus-laden science news streams – here’s a roundup of some of the research and scientific discovery happening in the field of peptides. Much of this may have gone unnoticed, but merits attention.

Is oral dosing with peptides on the horizon?Oral Dosing with Peptides on the Horizon?
There is growing promise (finally!) of oral dosing routes for peptides. This is a potential gamechanger for the peptide segment, since a lack of solid dosage forms was considered to be one of the major factors preventing peptide drugs from gaining traction.

The oral dosage route has long been the holy grail of peptide drugs. Historical routes of administration – namely, injectables – have lower adoption and compliance rates.

With 60+ peptide drugs currently approved and on the market, very few (e.g., plecanatide and oral semaglutide) are available in solid dosage forms.  This is attributable to the ease with which they are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract. They are, however, well-suited to oral delivery, given the size of the molecules. Identifying methods by which peptide therapeutics could retain their efficacy when taken orally has always been a priority.

In a study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering in May, researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) developed a method “for the generation of small target-specific peptides (less than 1,600 Da in size) that resist gastrointestinal proteases,” overcoming the traditional issues of metabolic instability and limited intestinal uptake.

An article at Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News discussed the near-term objectives of the EPFL research:

“[The] group is developing oral peptides that act directly on gastrointestinal targets, meaning that they don’t need to travel into the bloodstream. ‘We are focusing on chronic inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as well as bacterial infections,’ Heinis noted. ‘We have already succeeded in generating enzyme-resistant peptides against the interleukin-23 receptor, an important target of these diseases, which affect millions of patients worldwide without any oral drug available.’”

Peptides & COVID-19
Therapeutic peptides have been receiving a great deal of attention lately for their role in SAR-CoV-2 research and treatment.

A publication on the preprint server bioRxiv describes a number of peptides which interfere the early stages of SARS-CoV-2 viral attack. An article about the research paper, New database catalogs peptides that may halt SARS-CoV-2 cell infection, discusses the use of peptides to inhibit protein-protein interactions:

“SARS-CoV-2 is genetically closely related to SARS-CoV responsible for the original SARS outbreak in 2002, and both viruses use the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor as a keyhole to infect the cells. The binding occurs via the receptor-binding domain (RBD) found on the spike protein, and utilizes transmembrane serine protease enzyme known as TMPRSS2.”

The spike protein referenced above has become a key target of peptides. New York-based Hoth Therapeutics has likewise focused on this target – licensing technology and intellectual property for a novel peptide therapeutic to prevent spike protein binding and potentially slow COVID-19’s transmission.

Synthetic Peptides: Promising Candidates for COVID-19
Beyond Hoth Therapeutics, there are many more peptide drugs in development for COVID-19. From PharmaceuticalTechnology.com:

“Over 400 drugs are in development worldwide for the treatment of Covid-19 (Table 1). Five synthetic peptide candidates are already being tested in patients with Covid-19: four candidates in Phase II and one in Phase I. The pipeline also includes one investigational new drug (IND)/clinical trial application (CTA) filed stage candidate, two preclinical stage candidates, and six discovery stage candidates.

According to GlobalData’s Pharma Intelligence Center Pipeline Drugs Database, there are currently 21 peptide drugs in development for the treatment of COVID-19, including 15 synthetic peptides in development for the treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a life-threatening condition where the lungs cannot provide the body’s vital organs with enough oxygen, and other respiratory illnesses caused by SARS-Cov-2 infection.”

While we wait for the results of these various studies, it’s clear that peptides continue to be seen as strong contenders for therapeutic indications.

Learn more about peptide manufacturing and Neuland’s peptide capabilities in our Guide to Sourcing Pharmaceutical Peptide APIs.

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