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Grand-scale smallpox research grid delivers results


Markham, ON October 27, 2003 IBM, along with the University of Western Ontario’s Robarts Research Institute and several other technology and research organizations have completed the important first step in finding a treatment for smallpox. They dramatically reduced the number of molecules that can been considered lead candidates for further drug research.

The initiative, launched in February this year, was powered through a massive computing “grid” that enabled millions of computer owners worldwide to contribute idle computing time on their PCs to help identify the best drug candidates to treat smallpox post infection.

The equivalent of more than 39,000 years of computing time was contributed to the research effort in less than six months. People from more than 190 countries participated in the grid at www.grid.org, the world’s largest public computing grid resource.

“We know that ordinary people and corporations from virtually every country came together to assist the scientific team in this research,” says Sal Causi, business unit executive life sciences division, IBM Canada. “This project, because of its sheer scale and power, has attracted the attention of both scientific and political leaders who are interested in understanding how the combination of private technology and public participation can enable similar life-saving research.”

The project screened 35 million potential drug molecules against eight models of the smallpox protein to determine if any of the drug-like molecules would bind to the smallpox protein and render it inactive.

“What we’ve managed to do is narrow that huge number to a few thousand potential molecules that can be considered lead candidates for the next phase of research,” says Dr McFadden, co-director of the BioTherapeutics Research Group at Robarts and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology at The University of Western Ontario. “The next step will be to test these potential drugs in the lab for the ability to inhibit the viral enzyme, called topoisomerase, which was the target of the screen. Once this screen is complete, the short list of drug candidates that remains then needs to be tested in animals for the ability to inhibit the virus.”

The results of the Smallpox Research Grid project were delivered to representatives from the United States Department of Defense late last month.

“The Smallpox Research Grid is a dramatic illustration of the power of Grid computing to harness the world’s computing resources to improve the lives of people around the globe,” says Tom Hawk, general manager, grid computing, at IBM. “IBM believes the potential of grid computing to address similar grand scale research projects is unlimited.”

In addition to researchers at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) who funded the project, technologies and services provided by IBM, Robarts Research Institute, United Devices, Accelrys, Evotec OAI, University of Oxford, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Essex University were necessary in making the project a success.

“We are grateful to the sponsors, researchers, members and technology providers who facilitated this important research,” says Ed Hubbard, United Devices’ CEO. “This is the second time we have utilized the grid computing technology of grid.org in order to accelerate important counter-bioterrorism research. All of our members can take great satisfaction that they stepped up and took real action in the war against terror.”