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The term "cytokine" is a general term covering several small cell-secreted immunoregulatory proteins. These proteins are essential to the maintenance of physiological immune balance and regulation of pathophysiological processes like development and suppression of cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Cytokines are divided into subcategories based on their receptor confirmations/compositions, the major sub-groups include interleukins (ILs), tumor necrosis factors (TNFs) and interferons (IFNs). Each of these groups of cytokines are important for regulating the processes mentioned above, and even within each category exist molecules with different and sometimes even opposing functions, being able to both increase and suppress inflammatory responses[1, 2].
Due to the prominent role that cytokines play in regulating immune response, they have been studied as therapeutics for some time, and a recombinant IL-2 called aldesleukin was approved in 1992 to treat cancer. However, due to the nature of cytokine regulation in the body, the therapeutic efficacy has been dampened by short half-life, off-target effects and toxicity.
Companies are increasingly adopting next generation methods of engineering cytokines to enhance the therapeutic properties of these proteins. These methods take many forms. One approach is to fuse cytokines and antibodies to increase cytokine tissue specificity and thereby reduce off-site effects. Other companies are applying mutagenesis technologies to engineer IL-2 to promote its inherent anti-cancer capabilities without the hurdles of conventional IL-2 treatments like severe toxicity. Others apply masking technologies or develop pro-cytokines that are only activated inside the tumor microenvironment.
In this database, we have gathered +60 engineered cytokine companies applying many different technologies to modify several sub-groups and types of cytokines, whether it is interleukins, interferons or tumor necrosis factors to enhance their therapeutic capabilities.