Master's paper for Nature wins MedImmune prize

St Catharine’s Master Professor Sir Mark Welland was the project lead on a recently published Nature Communications paper entitled “Controlling the bioactivity of a peptide hormone in vivo by reversible self-assembly”, which has won the Medimmune 2017 Global Excellence Award for the best publication of the year. This award recognises the exceptional contributions to advance innovative science and deliver tremendous value to the MedImmune organisation, part of Astra Zeneca.

The research shows that Oxyntomodulin, a peptide with potential to treat obesity and diabetes, self-assembles into a stable nanofibril formulation that subsequently dissociates to release active peptide and produces a pharmacological effect in vivo. The subcutaneous administration of the nanofibrils in rats results in greatly prolonged exposure, with a constant Oxyntomodulin bioactivity detectable in blood serum for at least five days as compared to free Oxyntomodulin, which is undetectable after only four hours. Such an approach is simple, cost-efficient and generic in addressing the limitations of peptide therapeutics and opens up a completely new way to deliver a range of drugs.

Paul Varley, Vice President of Biopharmaceutical Development at MedImmune said, "This highly innovative work describes how we were able to assemble a peptide into a carefully controlled and stable fibrillar structure which we demonstrated to greatly extend the exposure, and critically the biological action of the molecule. This work has the potential to extend/improve the half-life of peptides and other protein drugs by innovatively utilising the natural properties of the molecule. This work is a great example of how MedImmune and the University of Cambridge can work together to deliver ground breaking science with the potential to enable the development of medicines of the future". 

Professor Welland, Head of the Nanoscience Group at the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Department said, “This work demonstrates how University research with a commercial partner can innovate medicine. Our years of research on how proteins and peptides can form nanostructures has allowed us to take a potential medicine and redesign its delivery to make it far more effective. The fact that in this case the drug, Oxyntomodulin, can be controlled so as to be active up to five days after a single injection as compared to four hours transforms the clinical efficacy.”