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IBM, United Devices Grid To Seek Cure For Smallpox

IBM, United Devices and Accelrys will team with leading researchers and the Department of Defense on a Grid computing project aimed at finding a cure for smallpox.

There currently is no specific treatment for smallpox post infection. The only prevention is vaccination, but routine inoculation was discontinued following the World Health Organization effort to eradicate smallpox. The Smallpox Research Grid Project will provide researchers at Oxford and Essex Universities in the UK and smallpox experts at the Robarts Research Institute, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and The University of Western Ontario with the computing power needed to identify new anti-viral drugs in the hope of removing the threat of smallpox as a potential weapon of mass destruction.

Results from the Smallpox Research Grid Project will be delivered to the United States Department of Defense's Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The project will be powered by a massive computing Grid that will enable millions of computer owners worldwide to contribute idle computing resources to the task of developing a wide collection of potential anti-smallpox drugs.

The project is based on commercially available technologies and services from IBM, United Devices, Accerlys and Evotec OAI that are used by many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to improve and accelerate drug discovery and development. Grid computing allows researchers to pool computing resources such as processing, network bandwidth and storage capacity for large research projects.

The project will employ computational chemistry to analyze chemical interactions between a library of 35 million potential drug molecules and several protein targets on the smallpox virus in the search for an effective anti-viral drug to treat smallpox post-infection. Past projects, such as one for anthrax, have been able to complete the billions of in silico simulations in as little as a month.

"IBM and the other project leaders encourage computer owners worldwide to consider joining in and donating their spare processing power for this worthwhile project to develop a new generation of drugs to combat smallpox," said Tom Hawk, IBM's general manager for Grid computing. "Grid computing is poised to launch a revolution in businesses, with life sciences being one of the key areas that will benefit through faster and more efficient drug modeling and development."

Part of Project to Fight Bio-terrorism

Individuals can participate in the Smallpox Research Grid Project by downloading a screensaver at www.grid.org. The screensaver will unobtrusively donate the computer's idle processing power and link it to a worldwide Grid that will act as a virtual supercomputer capable of analyzing billions of molecules in a fraction of the time it would take in a laboratory. Once a molecule is processed, the program will send results back to United Devices' data center, powered by an IBM infrastructure, and will request new data to analyze. The new data will then be analyzed by the individual machine and the results returned the next time the computer user connects to the Internet.

The smallpox project falls under the PatriotGrid category of research projects at www.grid.org. PatriotGrid is the world's first public research Grid dedicated specifically to counter bio-terrorism, the project organizers said. Participants who sign up at www.grid.org will be able to take an active role in all research projects that fall into this category.

"We've had great success using our massive Global MetaProcessor Grid to target anthrax and cancer research," said United Devices CEO Ed Hubbard. "Helping to identify inhibitors for these targets that could lead to a cure for smallpox in this time frame is only possible using leading applications, an existing infrastructure and a proven Grid solution. We're extremely proud to take part in this effort."

United Devices' Global MetaProcessor platform will aggregate the idle power of participating servers, PCs and workstations into its existing worldwide Grid capable of running a wide range of scientific and high-performance computing applications.

The Smallpox Research Grid Project is powered by an IBM infrastructure, which includes IBM eServer p690 systems and IBM's Shark Enterprise Storage Server running DB2 database software using AIX and Linux. United Devices' Global MetaProcessor Platform uses DB2 exclusively as its host database system. DB2 will handle 15 million SQL queries a day as it manages all aspects of data provided by the approximately two million computers analyzing billions of virtual drug screens. The technology in the Smallpox Research Grid Project is one of the ten commercial Grid offerings IBM announced last week. It is an Analytics Acceleration Grid, an offering for the Life Sciences industry. IBM employees will also have an opportunity to participate in the Smallpox Research Project.

Accelrys is providing the high-throughput docking and scoring software used to screen compounds for the Smallpox Research Grid Project in silico. Accelrys' LigandFit uses a three-dimensional model to analyze molecular data. Using LigandFit, scientists and researchers can predict and prioritize the suitability of potential lead drug candidates for subsequent experimentation and drug development.

"Through our donation of technology and scientific expertise, we hope to contribute to the elimination of smallpox as a potential weapon of mass destruction," said Scott Kahn, chief science officer of Accelrys.

Evotec OAI has provided its drug modeling expertise to identify and define active sites.

The University of Oxford, assisted by researchers at Essex University and the Robarts Research Institute, has prepared the targets for use with Accelrys' LigandFit and has contributed its large molecular library to the project. The project at the university and research level is led by Grant McFadden, scientist at Robarts Research Institute and graduate chair of the department of microbiology and immunology at The University of Western Ontario; Stewart Shuman, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research; Graham Richards, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Oxford, and Chris Reynolds, Department of Biological Sciences at Essex at Essex University.

United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases will manage the project for the Department of Defense and will be one of the institutions to further process the most promising drug-like molecular candidates with the goal of developing them to help combat the use of smallpox as a bioterrorist threat or military weapon.