Julio A. Camarero, PhD
Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Dr. Camarero's research develops new technologies to find novel compounds that block bacteria from causing disease while uncovering a new generation of therapeutics and diagnostics through development of viable antibody substitutes. Drug pipelines are currently running on empty as synthetic and natural small-molecule libraries have already been screened, and new chemical entities have not been identified. Recognizing that nature has had millions of years to develop new compounds, Camarero's work exploits the potential of naturally occurring biomecules, using modern chemistry to tweak these compounds to their maximize affinity for a given target.
In most cases, antibodies, like other proteins, cannot be taken orally as they are large, unstable molecules that are broken down when ingested. Most antibodies, therefore, must be administered intravenously. Furthermore, they are difficult to produce, making them more costly than other oral alternatives. Camarero is looking for the next generation of biologics that are stable, cheaper, and orally ingestible. He does this by using a particular family of peptides, called cyclotides, as a scaffold or base which can be modified to a stable antibody substitute.
In the attempt to develop new approaches for therapeutics and diagnostics, Camarero uses these cyclotides as protease inhibitors (preventing the breakdown of proteins) which can be adapted to specific molecular targets active in cancer and viral and microbial diseases. Camarero can instruct individual cells to make these different peptides, creating collections of millions of cells with unique peptides very quickly to constitute a molecular library. Then he challenges the cell population with the target molecule and uses high throughput techniques to identify the best peptide binders. Next, he screens the cells to see which function against the target, sorting the active cells according to attributes. This allows Camarero to rapidly screen billions of compounds, identifying about a hundred potential candidates at a time to take to drug testing and development.
This research will ultimately help detect cancers and other diseases which exhibit unique protein biomarkers that can become cyclotide targets and develop cyclotides as stable, new, biologically-based ,next-generation therapeutics in an extremely efficient, cost-effective manner.
Dr. Camarero started his studies in chemistry at the University if Barcelona (Spain), received his Master degree in 1992, and finished his PhD thesis there in 1996. Afterwards he joined the group of Professor Tom W. Muir at The Rockefeller University as a Burroughs Wellcome Fellow where he contributed to the development of new chemoselective ligation techniques for the chemical engineering of proteins. In 2000, he moved to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a Distinguished Lawrence Fellow where he became staff scientist and head of laboratory in 2003. He finally joined the University of Southern California in 2007 as an associate professor.
His current research interests are focused in the development of new bioorganic approaches using protein splicing and synthetic protein chemistry for studying biological processes involved in bacterial pathogenicity and how can be modulated or inhibited by small molecules. Dr. Camarero has authored over 40 peer-reviewed publications and four invited book chapters.