Seattle Biomed, Emerald Bio and Peers Get Big NIH Contract Extension

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and its scientific partners set out five years ago to better understand, in fine-grain detail, the 3-D structures of proteins on infectious bugs that sicken and kill people in developing countries. Nobody in the pharmaceutical industry had reason to look very hard before. But the scientists figured that if you could determine the structure and intricate folding patterns of these spaghetti-like molecules, and find the nooks and crannies where they might be vulnerable, you might have something. With a little luck, it could become an excellent resource for crafting drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines against a bunch of diseases.

Today, the National Institutes of Health essentially said it likes the results it sees so far.

The NIH, which granted Seattle Biomed and 11 other collaborators contracts worth $30.6 million back in 2007, has decided to keep its foot on the gas pedal. The NIH is providing contracts worth $9.1 million in the first year, and which could end up growing in value to $52.4 million over five years, if the team can continue to hit certain scientific goals. Bainbridge Island, WA-based Emerald Biostructures, a company that determines protein structures for drug companies, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA are part of the local consortium that is getting the contract extension. Part of the research funding is also being divvied up by nine other infectious disease collaborators around the world, led by a group at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

The scientific team was initially charged with determining the precise structures of 375 proteins thought to be of interest for infectious disease research against diseases like tuberculosis and cholera. This was wide-ranging work, which looked at bacteria, protozoas, and viral invaders. And even though this kind of structural genomics work can be painstaking, the teams apparently found a rhythm, as they determined structures of more than twice as many proteins as the NIH asked them to—a total of 1,080. All of those structures, including 303 new ones this year, are being dumped into the public domain for scientists to study.

Peter Myler is a professor at Seattle Biomed

Peter Myler, a professor at Seattle Biomed and the leader of the local consortium, said the growing public resource of protein structures “will be enormously helpful in forming a scientific foundation for drug development, development of new diagnostic tools and better understanding of how these infectious organisms attack their host and replicate.” More than 80 scientific articles have been published by the academic consortia, which call themselves the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease and Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases. You can see some of their work published online here and here.