A new concept for protein recognition and binding is highlighted. The conjugation of small organic molecules or short peptides to polypeptides from a designed set provides binder molecules that bind proteins with high affinities, and with selectivities that are equal to those of antibodies. The small organic molecules or peptides need to bind the protein targets but only with modest affinities and selectivities, because conjugation to the polypeptides results in molecules with dramatically improved binder performance. The polypeptides are selected from a set of only sixteen sequences designed to bind, in principle, any protein. The small number of polypeptides used to prepare high-affinity binders contrasts sharply with the huge libraries used in binder technologies based on selection or immunization. Also, unlike antibodies and engineered proteins, the polypeptides have unordered three-dimensional structures and adapt to the proteins to which they bind. Binder molecules for the C-reactive protein, human carbonic anhydrase II, acetylcholine esterase, thymidine kinase 1, phosphorylated proteins, the D-dimer, and a number of antibodies are used as examples to demonstrate that affinities are achieved that are higher than those of the small molecules or peptides by as much as four orders of magnitude. Evaluation by pull-down experiments and ELISA-based tests in human serum show selectivities to be equal to those of antibodies. Small organic molecules and peptides are readily available from pools of endogenous ligands, enzyme substrates, inhibitors or products, from screened small molecule libraries, from phage display, and from mRNA display. The technology is an alternative to established binder concepts for applications in drug development, diagnostics, medical imaging, and protein separation
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