Bicyclic peptides assembled around small organic scaffolds are gaining an increasing interest as new potent, stable and highly selective therapeutics because of their uncommon ability to specifically recognize protein targets, of their small size that favor tissue penetration and of the versatility and easiness of the synthesis. We have here rationally designed bicyclic peptides assembled around a common tri-bromo-methylbenzene moiety in order to mimic the structure of the CFC domain of the oncogene Cripto-1 and, more specifically, to orient in the most fruitful way the hot spot residues H120 and W123. Through the CFC domain, Cripto-1 binds the ALK4 receptor and other protein partners supporting uncontrolled cell growth and proliferation. Soluble variants of CFC have the potential to inhibit these interactions suppressing the protein activity. A CFC analogue named B3 binds ALK4 in vitro with an affinity in the nanomolar range. Structural analyses in solution via NMR and CD show that B3 has rather flexible conformations, like the parent CFC domain. The functional effects of B3 on the Cripto-1-positive NTERA cancer cell line have been evaluated showing that both CFC and B3 are cytotoxic for the cells and block the Cripto-1 intracellular signaling. Altogether, the data suggest that administration of the soluble CFC and of the structurally related analogue has the potential to inhibit tumor growth.

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