Pioneering discoveries from the Ciulli Laboratory and others have contributed to the establishment of a new modality of chemical intervention into biological system. The new paradigm-shift concept is that of targeting proteins for degradation using small molecules, as an alternative to conventional target blockade or inhibition. Protein degradation can be undertaken by double-headed molecules, also known as PROTACs, that recruit the target for ubiquitin mediated degradation by complexing them with E3 ubiquitin ligases, notably von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) and Cereblon (CRBN), amongst others. We are beginning to understand the rules of how to design and study this new class of molecules in order to trigger efficient, profound and selective downstream protein degradation, and the chemical properties necessary for drug discovery. These allow us to develop molecules that can best allow biological investigation to establish the profound consequences and attractive therapeutic potential of targeting proteins for degradation.
Our research in this area takes a multidisciplinary approach including organic and medicinal chemistry and computational tools to design and achieve desired molecules; structural biology and biophysics to study binary and ternary complexes in solution and reveal their structural and dynamic interactions; and chemical biology, biochemistry, proteomics and cell biology to study the cellular impact of our small molecules into relevant cellular systems – for example cancer cells sensitive to the knockdown of the protein target in question, or model cell lines suitable for biological investigation of specific signalling pathways. Our science takes advantage of latest technologies and vast expertise available at the School of Life Sciences e.g. within the FingerPrint Proteomics Facility and the Drug Discovery Unit. We collaborate with several research groups within the School, including the Divisions of MRC-PPU, GRE, and CSI, to deploy our chemical tools to interrogate the biology of targets of interest and to dissect the functional consequences of disrupting the signalling networks in which they are involved.
Potential projects in this area range from:
- Biological and functional studies in cells of potent and selective PROTACs for proteins of interest to us and/or collaborators, and evaluation of their potential as drug targets, particularly in cancer.
- Identification, and biochemical, biophysical and structural studies of new E3 ubiquitin ligases for PROTACs
- Fundamental structural and mechanistic studies of degrader mode of action
The project can be tailored to the student specific interests and motivations.