Engineering of a femtomolar affinity binding protein to human serum albumin

We describe the development of a novel serum albumin binding protein showing an extremely high affinity (KD) for Human Serum Albumin in the femtomolar range. Using a naturally occurring 46-residue three-helix bundle albumin binding domain (ABD) of nanomolar affinity for HSA as template, 15 residues were targeted for a combinatorial protein engineering strategy to identify variants showing improved HSA affinities. Sequencing of 55 unique phage display-selected clones showed a strong bias for wild-type residues at nine positions, whereas various changes were observed at other positions, including charge shifts. Additionally, a few non-designed substitutions appeared. On the basis of the sequences of 12 variants showing high overall binding affinities and slow dissociation rate kinetics, a set of seven ‘second generation’ variants were constructed. One variant denoted ABD035 displaying wild-type-like secondary structure content and excellent thermal denaturation/renaturation properties showed an apparent affinity for HSA in the range of 50–500 fM, corresponding to several orders of magnitude improvement compared with the wild-type domain. The ABD035 variant also showed an improved affinity toward serum albumin from a number of other species, and a capture experiment involving human serum indicated that the selectivity for Serum Albumin had not been compromised from the affinity engineering.