Distributed-Computing Technology Speeds Search for Anthrax Cure

WASHINGTON D.C, March 18, 2002 — Collaborators on the Anthrax Research Project have turned over the project’s results to the U.S. Department of Defense and the government of the United Kingdom. The virtual screening project, designed to screen 3.5 billion molecules against a known anthrax toxin protein, was launched Jan. 22 and concluded Feb. 14 — finishing in just 24 days a process that previously would have taken years to complete.

“The realm of life sciences is in for a radical shift in its approach to drug discovery, as evidenced by the phenomenal success of our virtual screening project to fight anthrax,”
says Dr. Graham Richards, chairman of the chemistry department at Oxford University in England.
“Research that was believed to be impossible in my lifetime is now not only possible, but has been accomplished in a few short weeks.”

Participants in the anthrax project include Intel, Microsoft, National Foundation for Cancer Research, Oxford University and United Devices. Preliminary results from the distributed computing technology indicate that from a pool of 3.5 billion molecules, approximately 300,000 have been identified as possible candidates for further research, and of these, some 12,000 are particularly promising. The goal is to study the fatal anthrax toxin protein and, ultimately, render it useless as a weapon.

The philanthropic initiative was based on the Intel-United Devices Cancer Research Project, which successfully harnessed the computing power of 1.3 million PCs around the world to provide scientists access to a virtual supercomputer more powerful than the world’s 10 largest supercomputers combined.

“This is an example of a problem that we used technology to help solve,”
says Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research.
“A lot of biotechnology research today is actually driven by advances in computer technology, which is helping to accelerate the process. Microsoft is proud to have supported this worthwhile effort to help scientists find new ways to treat and cure anthrax.”

The project’s results are being turned over today at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. Bioterrorism experts from the U.S. Department of Defense and the British government will be in attendance to receive the results from Richards.

“The Department of Defense is very happy to accept this contribution and looks forward to enabling technology advances through molecular design studies based on the structures of the compounds that have been identified,”
says Dr. Anna Johnson-Winnegar, deputy assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense.

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