• Consortium Evaluate Cryo-EM for Early Stage Drug Discovery
    Peter Fruhstorfer

News & Views

Consortium Evaluate Cryo-EM for Early Stage Drug Discovery

May 26 2016

Industry partners have joined with research groups at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) and the University of Cambridge’s Nanoscience Centre, to form the Cambridge Pharmaceutical Cryo-EM Consortium, with the aim to advance research in  early-stage drug discovery. As part of the three-year agreement FEI will provide sample preparation and data collection services on a Titan Krios™ cryo-transmission electron microscope (cryo-EM) to consortium companies Astex Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Heptares Therapeutics and UCB; colleagues from the MRC-LMB. The research groups will also share the use of the microscope in return for expert guidance on the use of cryo-EM technology.

Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) is used by structural biologists to observe specimens that have not been stained or fixed in any way, showing them at near atomic scale in their native environment. Three-dimensional images have been obtained for viruses, ribosomes, mitochondria and enzyme complexes.  

Following its installation at the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre, the Titan Krios will use the Relion software package, developed by LMB scientist Sjors Scheres to process the image data into a visual 3D model that helps researchers see and understand the structure and function of the proteins.

Richard Henderson, pioneer in the field of cryo-EM at MRC-LMB and co-founder, along with Chris Tate, of Heptares in 2007 said: "It is delightful to know that the development of cryo-EM, which many people have worked on for many years, has now reached mainstream structural biology. It is particularly satisfying that pharmaceutical companies are keen to evaluate the approach for drug development."

Prof. Sir Mark Welland, director of the Nanoscience Centre, said, “This is a great opportunity for researchers across the University to access a state-of-the-art microscope.

“Cryo-EM 3D models allow us to see and understand the workings of protein-based molecular machines that we could not analyse before because they were too large and complex or were resistant to the preparations required for other techniques,” states Peter Fruhstorfer, vice president and general manager of the Life Sciences business, FEI. “The technique was rapidly adopted by leading academic researchers and is now finding its way into early stage discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry.”

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