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New funding opens up more opportunities for UW Institute for Protein Design

Written by Debra Bouchegnies / May 28, 2019

David Baker and Neil King of UW’s Institute for Protein Design. (UW IPD Photo / Ian Haydon)

A universal flu vaccine that immunizes someone for a lifetime, smart proteins that identify and treat out-of-control cells, potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders – these are all ongoing research projects pursued by the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design (IPD), which is headquartered in the Molecular & Nanoengineering Sciences Buildings on UW main campus and is part of the UW School of Medicine. IPD works closely with UW CoMotion on intellectual property protection and licensing of their protein designs and technology, and now, a five-year, $45 million grant has opened up even more opportunities for the organization.

The funding was granted through The Audacious Project, a philanthropic collaborative that surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create massive global change. Housed at TED and supported by The Bridgespan Group, the project is a unique partnership between some of the most respected organizations in philanthropy and the public. The five-year grant adds to funding that IPD receives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“I’m excited about the potential, because there’s huge amounts that protein design can contribute to making the world a better place,” said David Baker, director of the Institute for Protein Design. He is also the Henrietta and Aubrey Davis Endowed Professor in Biochemistry. The mission of IPD is to advance the potential of protein design. IPD researchers use computer software to design entirely novel proteins from scratch. These custom-designed proteins not only perform functions of naturally occurring proteins but also entirely novel ones that naturally occurring proteins do not or perhaps cannot.

According to IPD, the funding will help them scale up and focus their efforts toward expanding the Institute into a global hub of innovation so that they can apply protein design to some of the most pressing challenges facing our species. Specifically, the Institute will use the funds to tackle five grand challenges:

  • Better vaccines, such as a universal flu vaccine capable of providing lifetime immunization
  • New peptide-based drug candidates designed to have enhanced features, such as the ability to be taken as an oral pill orto cross from the blood supply into the brain
  • Advanced protein containers for targeted gene delivery (including the delivery of RNA into cells)
  • Smart proteins capable of identifying cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells
  • Self-assembling protein nanomaterials for use in solar energy and nanofabrication

In the past several years, IPD projects have resulted in several new startup companies such as Cyrus Biotechnology, PvP Biologics, Icosavax, and Neoleukin Therapeutics. This new bolus of funding from The Audacious Project will hopefully add several more company names to this list. “The tremendous partnership between IPD and CoMotion has enabled us to implement sustainable long-term strategy for intellectual property management,” said Lance Stewart, Chief Strategy and Operations Officer at IPD. Dennis Hanson, Associate Director of Innovation Development at UW CoMotion works closely with IPD.  Dennis shares, “As the research in these areas progresses, and given the recent track record of UW IPD in creating new startups based on their innovations, UW CoMotion looks forward to continuing to support UW IPD on matters of intellectual property protection and commercialization activities.”