26 July 2011

German drug researchers bundle their expertise

Novel drugs: network of research centres is established to advance development/ HZI contributes know-how of natural compounds

In cells, viruses and bacteria a multitude of undiscovered drug targets still remain. The same is true for signalling molecules in the human body. It is essential to identify these targets for the development of novel drugs.

In cells, viruses and bacteria a multitude of undiscovered drug targets still remain. The same is true for signalling molecules in the human body. It is essential to identify these targets for the development of novel drugs. But how can you find potential points of action? Which substances could be used for fighting pathogens, stopping tumour growth or confine inflammation? Those questions are now addressed by a network of German research centres.

Several institutes of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest research organisation, and its partner institutes want to combine expertise and technologies to develop novel drugs for medicine faster and more efficiently. One of the members is the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig together with its outpost HIPS in Saarbrücken. The Helmholtz Association supports the nationwide project with up to 3.5 million Euros per year in the frame work of the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation.

“Since about 15 years we observe stagnation in the development of novel drugs against widespread diseases such as cancer or infections” Dr. Ronald Frank says, coordinator of the Drug Research Portfolio. “In contrast, case numbers of such diseases increase. Additionally, new challenges arise, as pathogens become resistant against our classical drugs and demographic changes require new therapeutic concepts.”

Frank who is working partly at the HZI and partly at the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) is certain that the new network will unleash considerable synergy effects. “We want to bring the expertise of all partners together, use the sophisticated technologies collectively and exchange our experiences.”

Among others, the researchers aim at compounds influencing the interactions between protein molecules or the activity of certain genes. The network is supposed to accelerate the identification and testing of those potential drugs as well as the advancement for clinical applications such as anti-infectives.

“The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research has many years of experience in the identification of drugs from natural sources.” Prof. Rolf Müller explains, director of the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). In Braunschweig, myxobacteria isolated from ground soil were for the first time successfully used for the production of their numerous biological active metabolites followed by the analysis of their pharmacological properties. One of those substances, Epothilone, is by now used in the USA as anti-cancer drug.

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