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Diabetes. 2012 Feb;61(2):505-12. doi: 10.2337/db11-0838. Epub 2011 Dec 30.

FGF21 analogs of sustained action enabled by orthogonal biosynthesis demonstrate enhanced antidiabetic pharmacology in rodents.

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  • 1Department of Metabolic Disease-Diabetes, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey, USA.


Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) mitigates many of the pathogenic features of type 2 diabetes, despite a short circulating half-life. PEGylation is a proven approach to prolonging the duration of action while enhancing biophysical solubility and stability. However, in the absence of a specific protein PEGylation site, chemical conjugation is inherently heterogeneous and commonly leads to dramatic loss in bioactivity. This work illustrates a novel means of specific PEGylation, producing FGF21 analogs with high specific activity and salutary biological activities. Using homology modeling and structure-based design, specific sites were chosen in human FGF21 for site-specific PEGylation to ensure that receptor binding regions were preserved. The in vitro activity of the PEGylated FGF21 ana-logs corresponded with the site of PEG placement within the binding model. Site-specific PEGylated analogs demonstrated dramatically increased circulating half-life and enhanced efficacy in db/db mice. Twice-weekly dosing of an optimal FGF21 analog reduced blood glucose, plasma lipids, liver triglycerides, and plasma glucagon and enhanced pancreatic insulin content, islet number, and glucose-dependent insulin secretion. Restoration of insulin sensitivity was demonstrated by the enhanced ability of insulin to induce Akt/protein kinase B phosphorylation in liver, muscle, and adipose tissues. PEGylation of human FGF21 at a specific and preferred site confers superior metabolic pharmacology.

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