Midlands scientists join Brazilian partner to develop new cancer and heart drugs

27 Apr 2018 16:14:34.187

Scientists at the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham are joining forces with experts at Brazil’s National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) todevelop the next generation of drugs to tackle cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

An agreement has been signed at the Brazilian Embassy in London between the Brazilian centre in Campinas, and the Centre of Membrane Proteins and Receptors (COMPARE), a collaboration between Nottingham and Birmingham scientists. The agreement is part of the Brazil-UK Year of Science and Innovation and will provide a research laboratory and support at the Brazil facility to host visitors from COMPARE. 

The agreement will enable COMPARE to access very specialist equipment dedicated to the study of membrane proteins, as well as providing access to a library of natural products that is only available in Brazil. 

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The specialist equipment includes one of the first fourth-generation synchrotron light sources in the world (Sirius) and two cyro-electron microscopes (the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the development of cyro-electron microscopy).  

The advanced equipment will be used to understand how drugs bind to their targets in the body called receptors and to identify ways to develop better drugs that target these proteins. 

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Brazilian Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Eduardo dos Santos said: "I am certain that the Brazil-UK Joint Year for Science and Innovation will strengthen the ties among Brazilian and British research institutions.  Today's event is an opportunity to celebrate this partnership and it paves the way for similar forms of producing knowledge and promoting innovation in both countries." 

The COMPARE collaboration was launched two years ago with an initial investment of £10 million, uniting a team of more than 20 leading researchers from Birmingham and Nottingham to work with the pharmaceutical industry to take treatments from bench to bedside.  

Professor Neville Wylie, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement (Americas) at the University of Nottingham said: “This unique collaboration will give our scientists unprecedented access to the world-leading facilities at CNPEM in Brazil and will strengthen our existing links there to tackle two of the biggest killer diseases in the world. The partnership between Nottingham and Birmingham in the COMPARE project shows how institutions must work together to tackle global health challenges. It also expands Nottingham’s existing research links with Brazil where we are actively collaborating in other scientific fields such as sustainable energy and agriculture.” 

Professor Stephen Hill, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham and Professor Steve Watson, British Heart Foundation Professor in Cardiovascular Sciences and Cellular Pharmacology in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Birmingham co-direct the COMPARE centre.

Professor Hill said: “This new partnership between COMPARE and CNPEM significantly extends our existing and highly successful collaboration in drug discovery between the Schools of Life Sciences and Pharmacy in Nottingham and the National Laboratory of Biosciences (LNBio, a component of CNPEM), that has been funded by CAPES and the British Council over the last few years. 

“The opportunity for us to now directly access the Sirius light source, the world-class facilities and colleagues at CNPEM and to access the unique natural product libraries they have developed in a truly collaborative manner is an extremely exciting prospect for us all in COMPARE”. 

Professor Steve Watson added: “We are looking forward to working with our colleagues in Brazil to push the boundaries of what our partnership can achieve – ultimately delivering new medicines that will help push back the advance of cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

“CNPEM’s expertise and world-class facilities will add a vital new dimension to an already successful partnership, allowing us create research opportunities that will deliver potentially life-saving benefits for patients around the globe.” 

Professor Kleber Franchini, Director of the Brazilian National Biosciences Laboratory at CNPEM affirmed: “Our contribution therefore aims to do much more than just reveal the mechanisms underlying complex biological processes: we hope this initiative will foster a radical shift in our ability to find and plan novel and efficient strategies to treat conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases”. 

At its core, COMPARE harnesses cutting-edge developments in powerful imaging techniques that will enable the researchers to visualise what happens when a drug binds to a cell surface receptor or protein in real-time. 

Conventional light microscopes can allow scientists to look at structures that are within a distance of 5,000th of a millimetre apart, which is insufficient for studying the location of individual proteins.

Super Resolution Microscopy, which was recognised with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 and which forms one of the technological backbones of COMPARE, offers the ability to visualise single proteins interacting with each other. 

Photo (left to right):

Minister-Counsellor Sidney Leon Romero (Emabssy of Brazil in London), Prof Kleber Franchini (CNPEM), Prof John Atherton (UoN), Prof Stephen Hill (COMPARE), Ambassador Eduardo dos Santos, Prof Robin Mason (UoB), Prof Stephen Watson (UoB), Prof Barrie Kellam (UoN), Dr Erica Arthur (UoB), Dr Maria Augusta Arruda (UoN), Prof Neville Wyllie (UoN), Ms Carlota Ramos (Embassy of Brazil in London).

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Story credits

More information is available from Professor Stephen Hill, School of Life Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115  8230082 or email stephen.hill@nottingham.ac.uk

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