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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R010153/1
Title: Application of large-scale quantum mechanical simulation to the development of future drug therapies
Principal Investigator: Cole, Dr D
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Astex Therapeutics
Department: Sch of Natural & Environmental Sciences
Organisation: Newcastle University
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 30 September 2019 Value (£): 98,632
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Chemical Biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Sep 2017 HT Investigator-led Panel Meeting - September 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Rational computational design plays an increasingly important role in today's society, and is widely used in, for example, the construction and automotive industries to reduce costs associated with conventional experiments. If we are to apply the same principles to the design of pharmaceutical molecules, then it is necessary to be able to predict with high accuracy which of the multitude of molecules that we can potentially synthesise in the lab actually have therapeutic benefits. Ideally, the computer program would be able to perform this function using only established laws of physics, rather than relying on data input from experimental measurements. The modelling of atoms at this fundamental level is known as first principles simulation.

First principles simulations are used today by researchers in many industries, including microelectronics and renewable energy, to rapidly scan multitudes of hypothetical material compositions. Only once a set of materials matching the desired properties is discovered, does the costly process of manufacturing those materials in the lab begin. So why are the same first principles techniques not used to design new pharmaceutical molecules? The equations of quantum mechanics were written down and shown to describe the atomic-scale behaviour of materials with remarkable accuracy as early as the beginning of the twentieth century. Therefore, the answer is not a lack of physical understanding. Instead, it is largely a problem of the computational effort required to model the large numbers of atoms that are involved in interactions between a pharmaceutical molecule and its therapeutic target.

There are an unimaginable number of silicon atoms in typical modern electronic devices, but importantly the homogeneity of the structures means that the bulk material can be represented by just two atoms periodically repeated in 3D, and it is a relatively straightforward problem to computationally model the properties of this simple system. In contrast, biological systems are much more complex and often we need to simulate many thousands of atoms in order to accurately predict the relationships between the molecule's structure and its function. However, due to increases in computer power and, more importantly, fundamental advances in software design, first principles approaches can now access these biological systems with precisely the same accuracy that is used to study silicon.

Traditional approaches to computational drug discovery rely heavily on hundreds of model parameters that have been collected over many decades from experiments or computational analysis of small molecules. My idea is to dispense with these parameters and instead compute them directly from first principles quantum mechanical simulations of the biological therapeutic target, such as a protein that is implicated in disease. These new model parameters, rather than being generic, will be specific to the system under study and will thereby transform the accuracy of computational biomolecular modelling. The improved computational models will be used to scan hundreds of potential pharmaceutical molecules for therapeutic benefit, thus allowing us to rationally and rapidly design new therapeutic candidates. Medical researchers will be able to focus their design efforts on synthesising only the most promising molecules, thereby improving the likelihood of success in the early stages of pharmaceutical development and decreasing the cost of medicines to the patient. This concept will be put into practice in collaboration with the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University for the design of novel cancer therapies.
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Organisation Website: http://www.ncl.ac.uk