Interleukin-2 (IL2) is a naturally-occurring biological therapy called a cytokine. Cytokines boost the immune system and have been used to treat metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) since the 1990s; however, its use has been limited by toxic side effects. Recently, scientists have been working to improve IL2. Researchers at the University of Washington, US, have used computer programmes to design a new protein that looks like IL2 but doesn’t trigger dangerous side effects.
The new protein is called Neo-2/15, and looks like both IL2 and IL15, another cytokine that is also being investigated as a treatment for cancer. In trials with animals, Neo-2/15 activated T cells to destroy cancer in the same way as naturally-occurring IL2 does; it slowed tumour growth, but didn’t cause toxic side effects.
The researchers have published their findings in the journal Nature; “Neo-2/15 has therapeutic properties that are at least as good as or better than naturally-occurring IL2, but it was computationally designed to be much less toxic,” said Umut Ulge, one of the authors.