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Shining new light on drug research: Global drug research programme comes to Diamond in Oxfordshire

28.05.2008
Diamond has announced that USA-based global biotechnology company Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated is the first industrial user at the UK’s world class new research facility, Diamond Light Source.

Vertex will utilise the Diamond Synchrotron, the largest scientific facility to be built in the UK for 40 years, to advance its research programmes for the treatment of serious diseases. With a UK office in Milton Park in South Oxfordshire, Vertex is well-positioned to use the Chilton-based synchrotron, which was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in October 2007.

Diamond is able to produce intensely focused synchrotron light in the form of X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet, which will be used by Vertex and other companies to investigate the atomic details of how novel drugs bind to proteins involved in human diseases.

These types of structural studies have become a cornerstone for the understanding of biological processes and an invaluable element of modern medical research, leading to more rational design of therapeutic agents. Diamond will enable Vertex to generate this information at a significantly higher rate than currently possible.

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Founded in the USA in 1989, Vertex has been involved in rational drug design from its outset; using synchrotron techniques to determine the structures of biological proteins that play a role in serious diseases in order to inform more intelligent creation of therapeutic molecules. In 1999, Vertex established a UK research and development site to utilize European sources of expertise in the field of structural biology. Vertex currently has a number of compounds in clinical development, including drug candidates for cystic fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis, plus their lead compound, telaprevir – an oral protease inhibitor for the treatment of hepatitis V viral infection.

Vertex’s current research programme at Diamond Light Source will use X-ray crystallographic techniques to focus on the interaction of small molecule inhibitors with proteins implicated in a variety of human cancers, bacterial infection and the development of immune diseases. The exquisitely fine detail revealed by Diamond’s X-rays will allow Vertex scientists to understand how the inhibitor compounds may be improved to increase their potency and selectivity for the desired protein target. Ultimately, this will lead to the discovery of more efficacious therapeutic drugs.. The exceptional quality and intensity of light produced by the Diamond synchrotron will enable Vertex scientists to generate data and resolve new structures from ever smaller crystals and within shorter timeframes than ever before, effectively speeding up the drug discovery process and allowing even the most complex drug targets to be tackled.

Dr Graham Cheetham, a Research Fellow at Vertex, carried out preliminary trials at Diamond in December 2007 and was impressed with the facility’s resources. He says: “Vertex continuously seeks new technologies and new methods that will improve our drug discovery and development efforts, and Diamond’s synchrotron brings to Vertex a novel tool for advancing our capabilities. To conduct cutting-edge science you need cutting-edge tools, and Diamond is a centre of excellence when it comes to its equipment and scientists.”

The benefits of using Diamond are recognised companywide. Dr Julian Golec, Senior Vice President, Vertex UK, says: “We believe synchrotron research will continue to play a major role in our drug discovery and development efforts, and we look forward to our continued work with Diamond in the UK. Vertex is committed to developing drugs for serious diseases. As our targets for medical intervention become more complex, state of the art facilities and technologies like those at Diamond are central to our continued progress in the understanding of biological processes that enable innovative drug design.”

Gerd Materlik, Chief Executive at Diamond, welcomes other industrial scientists who would like to come and visit Diamond to discover how it can aid their research. He says: “Synchrotrons are well established as valuable aids to industrial research in many areas, from structural biology through to engineering. Diamond has a wide range of applications and is, therefore, an essential tool to numerous fields of scientific research. There are many companies that may be able to benefit from using the outstanding tools and expertise that we have at this cutting-edge facility. Beamtime varies in cost depending on a number of factors, such as: length of time required for experiments; complexity; and level of support required.”

Sarah Bucknall | alfa
Further information:
http://www.diamond.ac.uk

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