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£2.3 million to fight disease

University of St Andrews scientists have today been awarded £2.3 million to fight infections and search for new drugs for everything from tuberculosis to foot and mouth disease.

The Centre for Biomolecular Sciences (CBMS) has been awarded the grant by the Department of Transport and Industry/Wellcome Trust funded Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF).

The grant – “Fighting infection: combining structural biology and biological chemistry in the search for new drugs” – will enable the team, led by Professor Garry Taylor, Director of CBMS, to establish four world-class facilities of the highest international standard. Pathogens being targeted include bacteria which cause tuberculosis, blood poisoning, food poisoning, viruses which cause the common cold, food and mouth disease, childhood croup and parasites which cause South American trypanosomiosis. Other work of a more fundamental nature on the mechanisms cells use to signal change, and which has implications for cancer, will also benefit from the new equipment.

Professor Taylor said, “The sequencing of the human and many bacterial genomes is revolutionising biology and has created a huge opportunity to combine chemistry and biology to cure disease, improve our environment and create wealth. Bacterial disease has re-emerged as a serious problem in the Western world, parasites devastate the human health of many countries in the developing world and many serious viral diseases cannot yet be controlled either through vaccination or chemotherapy. The JIF proposal seeks to discover new means of combating microbial infection of humans by studying the molecular basis of how certain pathogens infect and avoid the immune system. The combination of molecular and cell biology, structural biology, biochemistry and bio-organic chemistry reflected in the expertise of members of CBMS provides the cross disciplinary approach required to make significant progress.”

One of the most exciting outcomes of the JIF bid is the opportunity to build in St Andrews a high- throughput screening facility for drug discovery. There have been some spectacular successes in this area where synthetic chemistry meets biology and CBMS have recently recruited an outstanding chemist, Dr Nick Westwood from the laboratory in Harvard which is pioneering this field.

The robotic equipment will allow screening of libraries of small molecules containing 10,000 to 50,000 compounds in the search for the one or two compounds which will have a dramatic and specific effect on a biological process. Such compounds may not themselves turn out to be drugs but they may provide very useful molecular tools for further biological research or be useful leads for drug development. With the equipment purchased through this grant, CBMS will be able to discover potential targets for drug development, characterise these targets using a variety of biophysical techniques and screen for lead compounds.

The JIF bid was led by Professor Garry Taylor, Director of the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences and Dr Jim Naismith. Other applicants include other members of CBMS Professors Hay, O’Hagan, Randall and Dr’s Botting, Coote, Ryan, Westwood and White.

ENDS

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: jif- garrytaylor/standrews/chg/9april200 1

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