Lab Canada

New 3-D design centre will facilitate future drug research

Toronto, ON — Jan. 29, 2003 The University of Toronto’s Molecular Design and Information Technology Centre (MDIT), which uses state-of-the-art supercomputer and software to generate 3-D images for drug research, celebrated its official opening yesterday.

The $7.3 million supercomputing and visualization centre forms the core of a multidisciplinary drug discovery and development program at the university’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. The centre also has two satellite workstations in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry. MDIT’s state-of-the-art supercomputer and software create 3-D images of highly complex molecular systems projected on a stereo screen close to 4 m wide.

Among the research collaborations underway at MDIT are efforts to design new drugs to benefit diabetics and drugs that boost the immune system in patients with suppressed immunity because of diseases such as cancer.

“This is one of the best times ever for drug discovery,” says centre director and pharmacy professor, Lakshmi Kotra. “Advances in proteomics and genomics have created the potential for drugs to interact with new and complex biological molecules in order to counteract disease and we have to move quickly to get the technology and resources in place to develop these drugs.”

MDIT, which launched its operations in summer 2002, received a $2.9 million grant from the Ontario Innovation Trust as well as major in-kind contributions from Tripos Inc. and SGI Canada. The centre combines a 44 CPU Onyx3800 supercomputer built by SGI with advanced molecular graphics software tools supplied by Tripos.

“The new MDIT Centre is the first of its kind in Canada, and an example of the leading-edge research infrastructure that is making Ontario a leader in innovation,” says Ontario’s associate minister of enterprise, opportunity and innovation, David Turnbull.”

The centre is drawing researchers from fields as diverse as pharmaceutical sciences, structural biology, organic chemistry and computational chemistry, among others. Access to MDIT’s resources will extend beyond U of T to include collaborations with other university-based and private-sector drug researchers.

MDIT has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) Discovery District in Toronto which will give MaRS tenants access to MDIT’s resources and expertise. MDIT will also play a role in the formation of the Toronto Area Drug Discovery Discussion group that will foster dialogue between academic and industrial researchers. In addition, MDIT’s research team is working with the Drug Discovery Pipeline – an initiative developed by the Innovations Foundation and University of Toronto’s Institute for Drug Research to enhance the commercial value of university discoveries. MDIT is working closely with Advanced Chemistry Development Labs, a Toronto-based drug discovery software company, and Simbiosys, another computer modelling company, to generate partnerships for the benefit of researchers.

“Public-private collaboration is the key to maximizing research expertise and resources in the design of drugs that will improve the health of people around the globe,” says director of U of T’s Government Research Infrastructure Programs, Ian Spence. “MDIT provides a powerful, innovative approach to molecular modelling that will give our scientists the capability of competing at the leading edge internationally.”

The centre will also play a role in shaping the future generation of drug researchers. Students at U of T will have an opportunity to receive hands-on training at MDIT in computer-assisted drug design, skills that are in demand in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, says Kotra.