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The key to new medicines

Center for Structural Molecular Biology will create demands for R&D in the pharmaceutical industry

The information provided by such projects as for example, the Human Genome, will be used by the Center for Structural Molecular Biology to gain greater knowledge of the biological systems and discover practical applications for human health care, farming and agribusiness. “Our goal is to study how proteins function and clarify their structure, using for this purpose physics, chemistry and biology tools”, explains Glaucius Oliva, director of the Center.

A strong point of the project is its multidisciplinary nature. The Center embodies research scientists from the laboratories of Protein Crystallography and Molecular Biophysics of the University of São Paulo in São Carlos; of the Department of Chemistry and the Laboratories of Synthesis and Natural Products of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar); and the Center for Structural Biology of the Synchrotron Light Laboratory Laboratory (LNLS), in Campinas, which is under the coordination of Rogério Meneghini. “Over the long term, we can aggregate further laboratories and research scientists, since today it is known it is possible to study science not by specialization, but by focus on a common project”, says Oliva.

There are already nine research projects up and running and involving different applications, but always related to genes and diseases. “We have various enzymes of trypanosomes, of leishmania, various schistosomes mansoni, schistosomes and malaria. We also have protein of the yellow fever virus and human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes uterus cancer”, details  Oliva. “FAPESP’s support is going to strengthen this initiative.” The Center’s objective is to achieve a closer rapport with the pharmaceutical sector and create a demand for R&D in the domestic industry. The Brazilian pharmaceutical industry has an annual income of US$ 10 billion and the domestically owned companies account for between 35% and 40% of this, a market share that was achieved before even the Patents Law. But, Oliva cautions, that while the multinationals invest 20% of their revenues in R&D, the locally owned companies work only with generic medicines with a low value-added content, or under license for which they pay royalties. “The alternative is to invest in research. We have to continue with in-house projects, but also create demand and identify new projects which are of interest to industry”, explains Oliva.

The selection board considered the project fundamental for the future of research into new medicines in Brazil. “There is no doubt that science and industry in Brazil will depend on the capacity to work with the protein crystallography, specifically in drugs research and development and research into the genome structure. Without this capacity, basic Brazilian research will lose contact with its international partners and the Brazilian pharmaceutical industry will be unable to exploit the development of advanced drugs, above all those with particular relevance to the South American market”, said one of the specialists responsible for evaluating the project.

At all the participating institutions, the Center will maintain training programs for students and research workers in the area of structural biology. It will also establish a close relationship with the Center for Scientific and Cultural Diffusion , of USP, São Carlos, for the purpose of spreading the notions and importance of molecular biology, genetic engineering and biotechnology in high schools and through distance learning methods via the Internet, videos, conferences, among others.