PvP Biologics Creates First Therapeutic Enzyme for Celiac Disease


New treatment may lessen effects of gluten consumption

Around 1 percent of the American population is affected by celiac disease. For the approximately three million people in this country affected, the constant vigilance of their diet can be difficult and frustrating. Whether they’re at home, at a friend’s place or travelling abroad, all it takes is one small molecule of gluten to wreak havoc to their digestive system.

“When someone has celiac disease, they need to break down every single molecule of gluten,” said Sydney Gordon, a scientist at Ab Initio Biotherapeutics who was involved in making the prototype of the enzyme. “Otherwise, they could have a reaction.”

So far, there aren’t any therapeutics on the market to treat celiac disease. While there are other over-the-counter treatments on the market, none are very effective. Most are slow or don’t target all of the gluten molecules. However, PvP Biologics has managed to create a treatment, KumaMax, that decreases the immune response to gluten.

“There are no other enzymes on the market for celiac disease,” said Justin Siegel, the co-founder of PvP Biologics and an assistant professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at UC Davis. “There is nothing that is approved by the FDA for celiac disease. Nothing has made it through clinical trials. There are pills on the market that cause degradation of gluten but there is no clinical evidence that they are effective.”

PvP Biologics targets the specific triggering molecule, the immunogenic epitope, before it reaches the intestines where it would trigger the reaction. This would reduce intestinal damage caused by the reaction.

“We wanted to design an enzyme […] a protein that would act as a therapeutic for celiac disease,” said Ingrid Pultz, a co-founder of PvP Biologics.  We came up with a design using a protein modelling tool called FoldIt,”

PvP Biologics uses kumamolisin, a naturally occurring enzyme that, unlike some other enzymes, can survive the acidity of the stomach. By modifying the amino acid sequence in the original kumamolisin enzyme, researchers were able to specifically target the epitope causing the reaction.

A gluten-free diet is difficult to keep up with and accidental ingestion of gluten can sometimes occur. KumaMax may be able to lessen the severity of a reaction.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story suggested that KumaMax could eliminate the need for a gluten-free diet in people with celiac. This is incorrect. The enzyme could lessen the effects of accidental consumption of small amounts of gluten. The story has been updated to reflect this clarification.


Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org