FGF21 Analogs of Sustained Action Enabled by Orthogonal Biosynthesis Demonstrate Enhanced Antidiabetic Pharmacology in Rodents

  1. Douglas W. Axelrod2
  1. 1Department of Metabolic Disease-Diabetes, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey
  2. 2Departments of Preclinical Sciences and Process Development, Ambrx Inc., La Jolla, California
  3. 3Department of In Vivo Pharmacology, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey
  4. 4Department of External Discovery and Preclinical Sciences, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey
  5. 5Department of Chemistry, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
  1. Corresponding authors: Jason Pinkstaff, jason.pinkstaff{at}; Joel P. Berger, joel_berger{at}


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.

  • Received July 11, 2011.
  • Accepted November 7, 2011.

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