ANTICALINs® – Biopharmaceutical Agents from Protein Engineering

(f.l.t.r.) Dr. rer. nat. Martin Pöhlchen, Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Arne Skerra, Dr. rer. nat. Steffen Schlehuber

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Arne Skerra (Spokesperson)
Dr. rer. nat. Martin Pöhlchen
Dr. rer. nat. Steffen Schlehuber

Technische Universität, München
PIERIS Proteolab AG, Freising-Weihenstephan

Antibodies are a general-purpose weapon of physicians- whose application, however, is limited and production costly.
Are there better alternatives?

Arne Skerra, Martin Pöhlchen and Steffen Schlehuber have discovered an alternative to conventional antibodies – by producing a completely new type of protein. Arne Skerra is a full professor and holds the chair for Biological Chemistry at the Technical University Munich and founder of PIERIS Proteolab AG in Freising-Weihenstephan. Martin Pölchen manages the start-up company as chairman of the board, Steffen Schlehuber is the company’s CSO.

The conventional tools: complicated and unwieldy
Antibodies – the proteins of the immune system – have always been considered universal biochemical tools that allow molecular and cellular structures to be identified, bound, and marked. The only drawback: antibodies have a complex molecular structure. They consist of four protein chains and also find it difficult to penetrate the interspaces between cells due to their size. This limits the medical application of antibodies which are also quite costly to produce.

Skerra and his team succeeded in applying the functional principle of antibodies to another protein structure scaffold. Using lipocalins, a virtually ignored family of molecules, they engineered a new type of protein. These agents known as ANTICALINS constitute an alternative to antibodies and have numerous promising applications in research, medicine, and biotechnology.

The new proteins: simple, small, and versatile
Anticalins have a simpler structure and are considerably smaller than antibodies. They are produced with the help of easily cultured microorganisms. The simple structure of the anticalins also allows them to bind with other proteins. In this way, they can be endowed with enzyme properties or caused to remain in the body for a certain retention time. Anticalins can also be used for the same applications as antibodies. They can be used to neutralize toxins and promote their excretion from the body. Certain types of cells, like those in the immune system, can be activated or deactivated with their help.

As a biotechnology innovation, the novel proteins are sold by PIERIS Proteolab. Their principal field of application is cardiovascular and tumor therapeutics. Researchers expect a special effect from the ability of anticalins to recognize the surface structure of cancerous cells and to target tumors with cytotoxins. The development of marketable drugs is planned.