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£2 Million of Yeast Could Triple Available Drug Treatments

Researchers are to employ the humble yeast cell to greatly increase – perhaps even triple - the number of drug treatments for common diseases such as allergies, asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer.

Professor John Davey of the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Warwick, in partnership with Oxford-based Biotech company Oxagen and Coventry-based biotech company Septegen, has been awarded a £1.96 million grant by the Government’s DTI LINK Applied Genomics Programme. The grant will further develop unique technology invented by Professor Davey that can quickly and easily test current and future drugs against a set of targets recently discovered within the human body.

These drug targets, called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), are responsible for transmitting much of the communication that takes place between cells in complex organisms. Defects in these proteins lead to many diseases. It is not surprising therefore that GPCRs are the targets for drugs in most major pharmaceutical areas. About 60% of all commercially available drugs (including 30 of the top 100 drugs) act on GPCRs and these generate over £30 billion in annual sales.

The publication of the human genome sequence means that we now have detailed information for several hundred new GPCRs (three times as many as we previously had accurate information on) most of which are likely to be important drug targets. Knowing that these new targets exist is one thing – creating a simple way of finding out how we can use them in drug treatments is another. However, Professor Davey has developed a new technique which enables researchers to screen collections of prospective and current drugs against all these newly found human GPCRs.

Professor Davey’s new “SepteCell” technology allows individual human GPCRs to be introduced into yeast cells to produce a simple yet highly effective system for the mass screening of drugs. Unlike the currently available screening systems, SepteCells not only reveals which drugs are active but provides information about how different drugs might work. Furthermore, the system is sensitive enough to detect the slight differences that exist between GPCRs from different individuals, information that will help identify which drugs are likely to be most effective for different patients.

Note for Editors: The 3 year project is a collaboration between the University of Warwick and biotechnology company Oxagen Limited. It is co-funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The yeast system is commercialised through Septegen Limited, a spin-out company established by The University and Professor Davey in February 2001. Septegen offers its proprietary technology to the pharmaceutical industry via screening services and licensing opportunities and recently initiated its own GPCR-based drug discovery programme. For more information on Septegen, please contact JohnDavey@Septegen.com.

For further information contact:

Professor John Davey, Biological Sciences
University of Warwick Tel: 024 7652 4204
email j.davey@warwick.ac.uk

University of Warwick. February 2003.

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