Matthew Disney, Ph.D.
Chair, Department Of Chemistry
About Matthew Disney
The Disney group develops rational approaches to design selective therapeutics from only genome sequence. One of the major advantages that genome sequencing efforts potentially provides is advancing patient-specific therapies, yet such developments have been only sparsely reported. We have developed general approach to provide lead Targeted Therapeutics and Precise Medicines that target RNAs that cause disease broadly and include rare neuromuscular (muscular dystrophy), neurodegenerative (Alzheimer’s, ALS), infectious diseases as well as difficult-to-treat cancers (breast, pancreatic, prostate, and others), and infectious diseases that can emerge through seasonal exposures. Designed compounds have demonstrated activity in human derived cellular disease models as well as pre-clinical animal models of disease. We train the next-generation of scientists to ensure our work has an exponential impact in studying disease biology and leveraging it into making Precision Medicines.
To achieve these goals, we developed a proprietary platform dubbed Inforna over the past 13 years. It merges chemoinformatics and RNA structure to identify lead compounds that target an RNA of interest; that is, Inforna houses a database of RNA three dimensional motifs that bind small molecule medicines, identified via an experimental library-versus-library screen. The bioinformatics pipeline rapidly and accurately identifies disease-associated RNA sequences that adopt targetable three-dimensional folds by comparison to the database. This pipeline has been validated in various peer-review publications that demonstrated that the platform can be used to target RNAs that cause neuromuscular, neurodegenerative, and infectious diseases as well as difficult-to-treat cancers in pre-clinical animal models. Additionally, lead small molecule medicines can also be rapidly developed into compounds that recruit cellular nucleases to selectively destroy the RNAs that cause these diseases in a catalytic and substoichiometric manner (e.g. one molecule of the small molecule cleaves more than one molecule of the RNA target) coined RIBOTACs. Two of the major perceived concerns in the area of RNA-targeted small molecules are selectivity and potency. We have broadly demonstrated that these issues can be rapidly overcome via rational design and fragment assembly.
Key recent advances include:
(i) Sequence-based drug design across the human transcriptome to provide precision lead medicines
(ii) Small molecule cleavage of RNAs (RIBOTACS) in a catalytic and sub-stoichiometric manner via recruitment of cellular nucleases
(iii) Tools and technologies to study ligand binding capacity of RNAs across the transcriptome (Chem-CLIP and Ribo-SNAP)
(iv) Showing broad classes of known drugs target RNA and that their activity may be traced to targeting non-coding RNA
(v) Chemical biology approaches to understand RNA biology. We uncovered the mechanistic cause of Fragule X-Syndrome and Autism and also can define precisely the effect that non-coding RNAs have on the proteome.
(vi) Study druggability broadly. We have the ability to answer fundamental questions about how druggable the genome really is. Thus, we have launched the Druggable Transcriptome Project.
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