Peptide-Based Oral Drugs for Bowel Diseases Closer to Development

Peptide-Based Oral Drugs for Bowel Diseases Closer to Development

UQlogoUniversity of Queensland‘s spin-off biotech company Protagonist Therapeutics is getting closer to developing peptide-based first-in-class oral drugs Protagonistfor treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). The oral therapy has the potential to benefit millions of IBD patients worldwide.

Protagonist Therapeutics raised $118 million in Australian dollars (roughly $91 million in U.S. dollars) in its initial public offering of $7.5 million shares earlier this month. Shares began trading on NASDAQ on August 11 under the symbol “PTGX”.

The company notes on its website that there were an estimated 1.6 million IBD patients in the United States in 2013. Global Data in 2012 estimated that UC and CD markets had reached approximately $4.2 billion and $3.2 billion, respectively across ten major markets. The markets were expected to grow at a compound annual rate of approximately 3-5 percent through 2022.

Protagonist Therapeutics further observes that current tumor necrosis factor-alpha antibody drugs approved for the treatment of moderate-to-severe IBD, Humira and Remicade, are both injectable and that approximately one-third of the IBD patients do not respond to TNF antibody drugs. Approximately another 30-40 percent become unresponsive within the first year of treatment.

According to the company, the benefits of peptide-based, orally administered IBD therapy include:

  • Localized delivery with higher drug concentrations at site of active disease.
  • Reduced risk of infections caused by injections or infusions.
  • Greater convenience leading to increased patient compliance.
  • Oral and gastrointestinal-restricted delivery minimizes systemic exposure in the blood.
  • Peptides can be cleared more quickly from systemic circulation.
  • Likelihood of lower immunogenicity reduces risk of loss of response.
  • Lower cost of production, storage, and shipping.
  • Less complex manufacturing processes required.

Scientific discussion of a peptide-based approach to treating IBD can be found in the 2012 ebook “Antimicrobial Peptides and Inflammatory Bowel Disease” by Simon Jäger, Eduard F. Stange, and Jan Wehkamp

SmythMHeadquartered in Milpitas, California, Protagonist Therapeutics was established in 2001. Based on research by UQ Associate Professor Mark Smythe, it is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company with a proprietary technology platform focused on discovering and developing peptide-based new treatments for unmet medical needs. The company also conducts research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane, Australia, and is backed by healthcare giants Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.

“Most inflammatory bowel disease treatments are injectable, so the development of an oral drug with few side effects would give us a distinct edge over our competition,” Smythe said in a UQ press release. “This will be no easy feat, as the digestive system is a very complicated route for oral peptides, but these investments will help us take our discoveries in to the clinic where they will ultimately benefit patients.”

WainwrightBBrandon Wainwright, director of UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said Protagonist’s NASDAQ stock exchange listing highlighted the potential global impact of the Institute’s life sciences research.

“Discovery research is essential to further our understanding of disease and develop better treatments to help improve patients’ quality of life,” Wainwright said.


University of Queensland
Protagonist Therapeutics Inc.


  1. Dawn Shelton says:

    Bravo to these intelligent researchers and scientists. Your work is appreciated. Please continue as we desperately need a cure for Crohn’s!

  2. Dan G says:

    I wanted to thank every one of you guys working on these treatments! A few months ago, I lost 25lbs in 1 month as my 2nd child was born. I then gained 42lbs the following 2 months as I was under the influence of large doses of Prednisone. My family also suffered as I was too weak and emotionally compromised by the pain and prednisone side effects such as waking up 6 times a night for bathroom visits. Colitis had ravaged my colon and my family.
    I’m now on Entyvio and almost 100%, but still working off the issues prednisone has left behind. I’m finally able to be a good father but I fear the drug will stop being effective as it has with my mom. I hope these drugs work and bring you guys great riches as it will be well deserved.
    Again, thanks so much!

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