Press release

Symposium celebrates drug discovery revolution

Published on 24 May 2024

One of Scotland’s most significant scientific success stories in recent times has been celebrated at a special event hosted by the University of Dundee.

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Hundreds of the world’s leading scientific minds gathered in the city earlier this week for a symposium dedicated to Targeted Protein Degradation (TPD) – the innovative field that is paving the way for a new generation of drugs to target cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.

Titled Protein Degradation in Focus, the four-day event concluded on Wednesday and featured experts at the vanguard of this revolutionary means of drug discovery.

It follows the opening last year of the University’s multi-million pound Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation (CeTPD), which is dedicated to the field and further enhances Dundee’s reputation as a world-leader in the global life sciences sector. 

What is Targeted Protein Degradation and what makes it so revolutionary?

Targeted protein degradation (TPD) is an emerging field of drug development for treating diseases that involves redirecting protein recycling systems in our cells to destroy disease-causing proteins. Most TPD strategies use small molecules - so-called degraders - to recruit these target proteins to a class of enzymes called ubiquitin E3 ligases. The E3 tags the target protein with ubiquitin labels, which ultimately leads to the destruction of the disease-causing protein via the cellular waste bin: the proteasome.

“Targeted Protein Degradation is one of the most exciting areas of science today,” said Professor Alessio Ciulli, Director of CeTPD and a leading figure in the field.

“Proteins are essential for our cells to function properly, but when these do not work correctly the body is vulnerable to disease.

“We know of many proteins which are active in causing diseases. TPD has allowed us to effectively utilise a cell’s own natural disposal systems to remove disease-causing proteins. This approach means that the scientific community can look at developing drugs for diseases previously considered undruggable.

“That shift in thinking is beginning to have a ripple effect throughout the pharmaceutical industry and the breakthroughs we are already beginning to make here will impact on countless lives in the years to come.”

Who can expect to benefit from discoveries made utilising TPD?

Breakthroughs from Targeted Protein Degradation could potentially lead to new treatments for cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as many more illnesses driven by proteins.

Over the past 15 years, Professor Ciulli and his teams and colleagues have made significant discoveries that have helped to establish and shape the field as it is today. As a recent example of their pioneering work, earlier this year they published in the leading journal Nature research that has identified a class of molecular glue that could pave the way for a new generation of drugs.

When will patients be able to see the results of work involving TPD?                  

Ultimately, it is expected that communities and patients will benefit from TPD medicines that will save lives, as explained by Dr Valentina Spiteri, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the CeTPD.

“Many patients worldwide are already benefiting from more than 40 compounds being tested in clinical trials, including in the UK,” she said.

“When the first drugs of these kinds will be approved for therapeutic use, which is expected in the near future, this number will substantially increase.

“This is happening right here, right now. Recently, a British patient suffering from Chronic Lymphoblastic Leukaemia had exhausted their therapeutic options, having relapsed after developing resistance to all current treatments. He was given new hopes from a degrader molecule called NX-5948 currently being tested in clinical trial and was able to respond again within six months.”

What is the purpose of the Protein Degradation in Focus?

The main purpose of this Symposium was to bring the field together to mark the opening of the new Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation (CeTPD) at Dundee. The event offered  the opportunity to showcase CeTPD, Dundee and celebrate the significant investment that the University has made in this area.

“The work we are doing here makes Dundee the natural place to bring together the leading scientists, researchers and industry experts in TPD,” said Charlotte Crowe, a PhD Student in Professor Ciulli’s group.

“By fostering collaboration, innovation and knowledge exchange, we want to advance this exciting field even further. We are also keen to showcase all the people in CeTPD, promoting networking and mentorship opportunities, especially for early-career research in support of their professional and personal development.”


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489