Collaboration to boost pandemic preparedness, structure-based drug discovery and vaccine design

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A new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to facilitate collaboration in the field of pandemic preparedness and to promote further cooperation between the University of Oxford and Diamond Light Source has been announced. 

The University of Oxford and Diamond Light Source already have many links but now intend to develop their collaborative work to address multiple aspects of anti-viral drug discovery, in particular structure-based drug discovery, development of immuno-therapeutics and vaccine design.

Richard Cornall, Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine and Head of Department of the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) at the University of Oxford said: “Over the years we have had many research collaborations with Diamond including its Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC). This has been reinforced by a number of high-level joint appointments and secondments of principal investigators between Diamond and NDM.

“This agreement recognises that our strengths continue to be highly complementary and that by working together we will have the best chance of developing life-saving ways to prevent and treat our most significant pandemic threats.”

Dave Stuart, life sciences director at Diamond and joint head of Structural Biology at University of Oxford, said: “This new agreement will enable us to identify collaborative research opportunities for joint research and development both of mutual or individual interest and to coherently address multiple aspects of therapy development from anti-viral drug discovery to vaccine design.”

Project areas between Oxofrd University and Diamond Light Source

The University of Oxford and Diamond Light Source intend to develop their collaborative work in the several project areas.

In structure-based drug discovery and development of immuno-therapeutics, both facilities will look for ways to bring their assets and partnerships to bear on a joint cross-disciplinary platform to develop novel class-specific anti-viral drugs and immuno therapeutics. 

One major shared goal is rapid generation of small molecule and protein hits, refinement to potent leads and in vitro assessment. They may also identify ways to use their shared resources to create a pipeline comprising structure-based drug discovery, in vitro and in vivo assay development, innovative and automated approaches to drug design, advanced enzymology/protein science synthesis and development.

A second shared aim focuses on structural characterisation of the mode of action of neutralizing antibodies or nanobodies and the use of this information in the development of new immuno-therapeutic entities.

On vaccine design, the partners will look to generate high-resolution structural data, and appropriate cellular imaging data, to feed into the design of novel vaccines and the refinement and optimisation of vaccination strategies.

Pandemic Sciences Institute

In 2021, The University of Oxford established the Pandemic Sciences Institute, hosted by NDM, as a multi-disciplinary, university-wide initiative to build upon the model of innovation, collaboration and agility that yielded critical breakthroughs for COVID-19, and to identify and counter future pandemic threats.

Diamond, the UK’s national synchrotron, co-founded the COVID Moonshot, a spontaneous global collaboration that started in March 2020, triggered by data from Diamond’s XChem platform for fragment screening, and rapidly identified potent antivirals targeting the main protease of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

These antivirals are now undergoing a preclinical program funded by the Wellcome Trust; and data openly shared by Moonshot additionally enabled the identification of another promising COVID-19 drug developed by the Japanese pharmaceutical company, Shionogi, which is now in late-stage clinical trials.

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