Understanding How Biomolecules Interact With Surfaces – Dr. Raymond Tu

by Christopher Edwards

With the help of pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb, Dr. Raymond Tu of City College’s Department of Chemical Engineering is conducting research focusing on biomolecules and their interactions with surfaces.

Partners in the collaboration include professor Charles Malderelli of CCNY’s Levich Institute and the Argonne National Laboratory from the Department of Energy.

The central goal of the research is to understand how biologics, a relatively new class of pharmaceuticals, interact with surfaces. Biologic products are made from blood, proteins, viruses, and other forms of living organisms.

“The fundamental question of what happens when one of these biological molecules goes to the interface is something that hadn’t been explored very much.” Tu said. “In the past, most of the drugs that we’ve taken are small molecule drugs. They’re small organic molecules. They weigh less than 1,000 Daltons. They don’t break very easily. Usually, they can be formed into things like pills. In the future, almost all the drugs that you or me or anybody’s going to be taking are big molecules.”

Dr. Raymond Tu

The Dalton, also known as an atomic mass unit, is a unit of mass that is equal to one twelfth of the mass of a free carbon-12 atom at rest. Its value is approximately equal to 1.660 x 10−27 kg.

The pharmaceutical industry has begun to shift further from the small molecule drugs we are used to, like aspirin, to larger molecule drugs.

The best current example of biologics is the COVID-19 vaccine, made from RNA. Another example is protein molecules, like antibodies being used in recent cancer therapies. An issue Tu tries to work through with his research is that biologics tend to be fragile and if they are broken at any point, they can become useless.

“Academic scientists like myself are trying to understand how these molecules behave when they live in a vial and need to be shipped around the country around the world,” Tu said.

Bristol Myers Squibb is actively involved in Tu’s research, he said.

“I think it’s been especially fruitful, because every time we wanted to know about very particular aspects of how it is that we could make the project more relevant to the pharmaceutical industry, they’d have really great answers,” Tu said.

Thus far, the collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb has produced three research articles. One of these articles, Armoring the Interface with Surfactants to Prevent the Adsorption of Monoclonal Antibodies, deals with the question of how much surfactant should be added to a drug in order to protect and stabilize the solution. The researcher said that he considers the study a success.

“Now we have a really good idea based on our X-Ray experiments and some theoretical models of exactly how much you need,” he explained.

Tu said he is pleased with his collaborations with Bristol Myers Squibb thus far and hopes to continue them in the future as the field of biologics increases in relevance.

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