In-silico Screening for Anthrax Toxin Inhibitors

Oxford University to provide future anthrax research results to American government

The University of Oxford and United Devices, sponsored by Intel and Microsoft, are teaming up to launch a new project on the internet to find molecules which could form the basis for disruption of the effects of anthrax. It is intended that the intellectual property arising from the project in the form of lists of molecules will be made available to the US government and other friendly states.

The project has been set up as a direct result of the recent occurrences of the disease following the attacks on 11 September 2001. It builds on the hugely successful cancer screen saver project launched by Oxford University and the US National Foundation for Cancer Research last year, in which idle computer time on over a million personal computers across the world is being used to screen a database of 3.5 billion drug-like molecules as potential anti-cancer drug candidates.

As part of the anthrax project, molecules will be tested as potential inhibitors. The anthrax protein is only lethal if one of its three components, the so-called protective antigen, comes together and forms a ring with seven copies of the protein, which then facilitates the entry of the lethal factor into a biological cell. Protection against anthrax could be afforded by inhibiting the binding of the lethal factor. The Oxford University group has used its own novel software to identify the binding site on the protein, which provides the scope for rational drug design. With that site identified, the screening of the database of molecules as potential inhibitors becomes possible.

Professor Graham Richards, Chairman of Chemistry at Oxford University and scientific director of the project, said: 'Massively distributed computing provides efficient and speedy ways to identify new drug candidates. Particularly with anthrax and other related bioterrorist threats, speed to discovery is of the essence. Without this technology and the support of our collaborators, there would be no other way to tackle such a tremendous task.'

Interested PC users can download the screen saver from

For further information, please contact the press office on 01865 280528. A higher resolution image of the anthrax protein (jpeg format, credit: Oxford University) is available from the Press Office.

Notes to Editors:

The University of Oxford work has been carried out in the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) Centre for Computational Drug Design, headed by Professor Graham Richards. For more information, see

Further details of the cancer screen saver project can be found on the University of Oxford Chemistry Department website

The basic methodology used to identify the target site is the subject of a paper to be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society [Identification of Ligand Binding Sites on Proteins Using a Multiscale Approach, Meir Glick, Daniel D. Robinson, Guy H. Grant and W. Graham Richards]. Fuller details of the site for rational drug design of anthrax inhibitors will appear in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology [Protection Against Anthrax: Identification of a Site for Rational Drug Design, Meir Glick, Guy H. Grant and W. Graham Richards].

United Devices Inc is an edge distributed computing software and services company. United Devices' MetaProcessor platform is an enterprise technology that allows companies to harness the idle resources of their existing computers, either on corporate networks or the Internet. United Devices' customers use the MetaProcessor platform to gain competitive advantage and increase profitability by accelerating mission critical research and business applications in a number of industries, including life sciences, geosciences, manufacturing, and digital media. For more information, visit the United Devices Web site (




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