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New Bases, New Drugs

Researchers are applying an expanded DNA alphabet to develop a new cancer drug, the Economist reports.

Back in 2014, Scripps Research Institute's Floyd Romesberg reported in Nature that he and his team were able to expand the number of DNA bases — to include d5SICS–dNaM, also known as X and Y — which they coaxed E. coli to contain and propagate. At the same time, Romesberg co-founded the synthetic biology firm Synthorx to use this expanded DNA language to develop new drugs and vaccines.

As the Economist reports, Romesberg has used this approach to generate new types of proteins, and he and Synthorx have been applying it to develop a form of the cancer drug interleukin-2 that is less toxic and more effective.

In particular, the Economist says Romesberg and Synthorx are focusing on generating a version of interleukin-2 to which polyethylene glycol molecules attach to prevent it from binding the alpha lymphocyte receptor. Binding only the beta and gamma receptors, it adds, would reduce toxicity. They tell the Economist that their approach has worked in mice and they plan to start human trials soon.