PvP Biologics Creates First Therapeutic Enzyme for Celiac Disease


With new treatment, those with celiac disease may no longer have to go gluten-free

Around 1 percent of the American population is affected by celiac disease. For the approximately three million people affected in this country, the constant vigilance surrounding 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. “Otherwise, they could have a reaction.”

So far, there haven’t been 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.

“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.

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

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.

“The obvious [benefit is that] you don’t have to worry about following a gluten-free diet. Just for your own convenience, for your own taste, that’s way better,” Gordon said.


Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org

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