Here are some of the key questions around coronavirus research at Diamond:
Diamond is one of the most advanced scientific facilities in the world, and its pioneering capabilities and instruments have proven to be hugely valuable in the study of global disease challenges, including Ebola, Malaria, and Foot-and-Mouth disease virus.
We have undertaken work into identifying drug targets, on the spikes and on the receptor binding and the main protease. One part of the work with the University of Oxford has been to look at the disease spikes, for example, we identified antibodies from patients in Taiwan which could create a real potential for a drug target. This is incredibly valuable intelligence because it has come from real patients who have the virus.
Diamond has unique capabilities for screening large numbers of chemical fragments that can be used as lead compounds for drug development. The XChem platform at Diamond allows structural biologists to screen up to 500 structures a day which has transformed the use of this information for drug development as the information can now be produced at a rate that can feed directly into chemical synthesis. This platform is being used to accelerate the development of clinical drugs targeted at the main protease of SARS-CoV-2.
In view of the urgency of the project, we mobilised a concerted effort to work on this. Specifically this has involved seven researchers at Diamond (Walsh and von Delft groups), researchers from the Weizmann (London group), and Exscientia Ltd. We have also established links with Public Health England (Carroll group), Shanghai (Rao group), Beijing (Wang group) and the University of Oxford (Owens group).
Scientific research on the new disease COVID-19 is a global priority, we will do everything we can to help advance work on this drug target, and on other proteins that represent potential weak points of the virus. We are not waiting for publication of papers about this research but we have made the decision to make results available immediately to the scientific community.
The reason for this is that we hope that by sharing information as early as we can, this will accelerate global efforts to produce anti-viral drugs and other therapies.
We are now well-positioned to take immediate advantage of UKRI funding to sustain this effort. Diamond is redirecting efforts on COVID-19 where possible to ensure researchers in this are are well supported.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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