£1 million search for new drugs

Thursday 23 March 2000

The University of St Andrews has been awarded over £1 million to design a new group of drugs for some of the world’s most common infections.

The Medical Research Council Co- operative Group, comprising chemists and biologists, will aim to develop new drugs for the treatment of a range of human diseases including tuberculosis, salmonella, croup, measles and Chagas’ disease, a tropical disease passed on by blood-sucking bugs.

The six strong team will cement and build upon the work already being carried out within the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, a £9 million state-of-the-art development which exploits the interface between biology and chemistry. The team members are Professor Rob Field, Professor Ron Hay, Dr Graham Kemp, Dr Jim Naismith, Dr Rick Randall and Professor Garry Taylor, Director of the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences.

Professor Garry Taylor, who is heading up the group said, “The studies being carried out are beyond the capability of a single scientist and require a group of scientists with a certain breadth of knowledge and an array of experimental techniques. The MRC Group brings together molecular virologists, protein chemists, structural biologists and synthetic chemists who, as a team, are better equipped to tackle the problems. Having established the Group, we are also in a stronger position to apply for further grants”.

The Group will not only work towards the design of drugs against identified targets but will also be involved in discovering new targets for therapeutic intervention. Specifically, the Group will study a family of enzymes used by certain viruses and parasites in infection, a second family of enzymes used to synthesize bacterial cell wall sugars which are unique to bacteria and methods used by viruses to interfere with the normal cellular response to foreign invasion.

Professor Taylor believes the venture will have enormous benefits. He said, “The health and wealth implications of such a group are immense. In terms of health, this research could lead to the development of new therapies against a range of viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases. In terms of wealth, the group already has strong links with pharmaceutical companies throughout the UK and the US which will be strengthened by this work”.

The Centre for Biomolecular Sciences was officially opened by Donald Dewar MSP on St Andrew’s Day 1998. The University’s former Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Struther Arnott, who himself has made significant discoveries at the biology/chemistry interface, was very much behind the establishment of the Centre. The four storey glass and steel building on the North Haugh houses some 80 researchers working in some of the most advanced research laboratory space in the UK. The MRC award brings the research funding of the 12 current members of the Centre to over £6.5 million.

Professor Taylor said, “This recent funding from the MRC is a confirmation of the vision of the University to invest in this area. It is at the biology/chemistry interface that some of the most exciting advances in science are happening. We intend to build on this success by strengthening the research base in the Centre with further appointments in biochemistry, microbiology and biological chemistry. In this way, St Andrews will be equipped to play a significant role in this age of functional genomics: the worldwide effort to understand what each of the 100,000 proteins in our cells do, how they communicate with one another, what goes wrong in disease and what we can do to fight disease through the development of new drugs”.

NOTE TO EDITORS:- You are invited to send a reporter/photographer to Level 2 of the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, North Haugh, St Andrews at 2pm on Friday 24 March 2000. The team will be available for photographs in the state-of-the- art laboratories, and interviews.


Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07887 650072 or email [email protected] Ref: MRCgrant/standrews/chg/23march2000/ PR1916

Category Research

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