TERRAPIN TECHNOLOGIES INC. in South San Francisco, Calif., says it has developed a technique called molecular fingerprinting that helps scientists zero in on chemical compounds that hold promise for treating diseases. Terrapin Technologies' method, reported in March in the journal Chemistry & Biology, involves selecting about 50 chemical compounds that are very different from one another and testing each of them against a target protein. A computer program called targeted rapid affinity prototyping (TRAP) analyzes the results. Based on which substances produce an effect, it figures out an ideal compound--say, one that combines the features of three or four of the most successful test materials. Then it searches a database of potential compounds--30,000 and growing--for the one that comes closest to matching the criteria.
The patented process may sound a bit crude for something as complex as a protein, but it seems to work, says Dr. Fred E. Cohen, professor at the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center. Cohen was asked to investigate Terrapin for private investors--and is now negotiating an investment for himself. Lawrence M. Kauvar, Terrapin's chief scientific officer, says the company is homing in on a small molecule, which could be formulated as a pill, that would hold promise for controlling diabetes. It is also following another one that has been shown in animal studies to increase the population of bone marrow cells, which would be useful after cancer chemotherapy.