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Keywords:

  • cyclic peptides;
  • macrocyclic ligands;
  • peptides;
  • polycyclic peptides;
  • therapeutic peptides

Abstract

Owing to their excellent binding properties, high stability, and low off-target toxicity, polycyclic peptides are an attractive molecule format for the development of therapeutics. Currently, only a handful of polycyclic peptides are used in the clinic; examples include the antibiotic vancomycin, the anticancer drugs actinomycin D and romidepsin, and the analgesic agent ziconotide. All clinically used polycyclic peptide drugs are derived from natural sources, such as soil bacteria in the case of vancomycin, actinomycin D and romidepsin, or the venom of a fish-hunting coil snail in the case of ziconotide. Unfortunately, nature provides peptide macrocyclic ligands for only a small fraction of therapeutic targets. For the generation of ligands of targets of choice, researchers have inserted artificial binding sites into natural polycyclic peptide scaffolds, such as cystine knot proteins, using rational design or directed evolution approaches. More recently, large combinatorial libraries of genetically encoded bicyclic peptides have been generated de novo and screened by phage display. In this Minireview, the properties of existing polycyclic peptide drugs are discussed and related to their interesting molecular architectures. Furthermore, technologies that allow the development of unnatural polycyclic peptide ligands are discussed. Recent application of these technologies has generated promising results, suggesting that polycyclic peptide therapeutics could potentially be developed for a broad range of diseases.