TEMPLAPEPT: Template-directed stapling: towards functional helical peptides

Diego Núñez Villanueva holds a degree in Chemistry from the University of Málaga (2007) and a PhD in Chemistry (2013) from the Complutense University of Madrid. He carried out his PhD at the Instituto de Química Médica (IQM, CSIC), working on stereoselective synthetic routes to access quaternary amino acids and their application as peptide secondary structure inducers.

As postdoctoral researcher at the universities of Sheffield (2013-2014) and Cambridge (2014-2022), he started a new research program studying chemical alternatives to nucleic acids for encoding and transferring sequence information. Before joining the ComFuturo program, he worked as senior scientist at Bicycle Therapeutics (2022-2023), biotech founded by the 2018 chemistry Nobel prize winner Greg Winter.

He has contributed significantly to the generation of knowledge and technology transfer (20 articles; 1 patent; h-index: 11) and played a key role in prestigious funding schemes, such as ERC Advanced Grants. Since April 2023 he works as a ComFuturo fellow developing his project TemplaPept at the IQM.

Las bases moleculares de muchas enfermedades siguen siendo inciertas a día de hoy. Las interacciones entre proteínas o entre proteínas y carbohidratos son procesos clave en muchos procesos biológicos y su desregulación está en el origen de múltiples patologías, por lo que constituyen dianas terapéuticas prometedoras. El objetivo del proyecto TEMPLAPEPT es desarrollar una tecnología novedosa que sirva de plataforma para el estudio preciso y a nivel molecular de estas interacciones, lo que constituye un reto importante de la química biológica. En el largo plazo, esta metodología dará acceso a materiales funcionales con diversas aplicaciones biológicas y generará un valioso conocimiento para desarrollar nuevos fármacos y técnicas diagnósticas.
The molecular basis of many diseases remains unclear to this day. Protein-protein or protein-carbohydrate interactions are key processes in many biological processes and their dysregulation is at the origin of many pathologies, making them promising therapeutic targets. The aim of the TEMPLAPEPT project is to develop a novel technology that will serve as a platform for the precise study of these interactions at the molecular level, which is a major challenge in biological chemistry. In the long term, this methodology will provide access to functional materials with diverse biological applications and generate valuable knowledge for the development of new drugs and diagnostic techniques.

Extended project summary:

The molecular basis of many diseases is not fully understood yet. This is the case for diseases which have attracted a lot of attention, such as cancer or neurodegenerative diseases, but also for rare diseases with small patient populations, dampening commercial interest in the development of treatments or diagnostic devices. Innovative approaches are therefore still needed to break the limits in understanding, at the chemical level, key biological processes. Success in this direction will provide groundbreaking information for developing new therapeutic agents.

Misregulation of protein-protein and carbohydrate-protein interactions is often implicated in disease states, constituting promising therapeutic targets. The aim of the TEMPLAPEPT project is to develop a novel technology as a platform for the study of these interactions beyond current knowledge. In particular, this project proposes a novel methodology for the stabilization of helical peptides, key structural element involved in a significant population of protein-protein and carbohydrate-protein interactions. This technology is based on the use of the α-helix structure as template for choosing the optimal helicity inducers and will also serve to engineer interesting properties in these peptide conjugates, not accessible by current methods. This is a general technology applicable to virtually any relevant target in which protein-protein and carbohydrate-protein interactions are involved, offering a broad scope of potential biological applications. Moreover, immobilization of helical scaffolds onto surfaces will allow the study of multivalency in such binding events, essential to control their affinity and selectivity.

This is a multidisciplinary project, combining organic and medicinal chemistry with biophysical and structural techniques. It is strongly based on the researcher’s background in synthetic supramolecular chemistry and molecular recognition.