Computer-Aided Drug Design Leads to Real Candidate and New Biotech Startup

Neoleukin hopes to take its IL-2 candidate Neo-2/15 to the clinic.

Computational scientists at the University of Washington have taken on the task of designing a drug that specifically targets the IL-2 pathway without the high toxicity that has plagued candidates of this type to date. They believe in their new candidate strongly enough to form a new biotech company to take it to the clinic. 

The company –– Neoleukin –– will continue to use computer-aided design to improve the properties of Neo-2/15. The drug is a protein designed to bind specifically to IL-2 beta and gamma receptors but not CD25, which leads to toxic reactions. Binding to IL-2 beta and gamma receptors leads to a more potent T cell response to cancer cells. The researchers also added a component to the protein that enables it to bind to IL-15 as a way to boost the drug’s efficacy.

The small and stable candidate has therapeutic properties that are at least as good as or better than naturally occurring IL-2, according to Umut Ulge, one of the lead authors of a paper on the research published in Nature. The difference is the use of computational design to significantly reduce the toxicity. A lab model was developed that could be administered to mice in high doses without any lethal reaction.

Neoluekin has competitors, including collaborators Nektar Therapeutics and Bristol-Myers Squibb (Opdivo/NKTR-214 combination drugs) and Synthorx (Synthorin IL-2).



Cynthia A. Challener, Ph.D.

Dr. Challener is an established industry editor and technical writing expert in the areas of chemistry and pharmaceuticals. She writes for various corporations and associations, as well as marketing agencies and research organizations, including That’s Nice and Nice Insight.