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World’s largest protein research centre opens in Geneva

Supercomputing technology powers GeneProt's work in Geneva Keystone

The world's most powerful, commercial supercomputer has been installed in Geneva to perform industrial-scale protein analysis.

The new centre, opened by the United States company, GeneProt, is designed to identify potential drugs from previously unidentified proteins.

The Geneva facility has state-of-the-art equipment, searching around the clock, for the proteins that could become the therapeutic agents of tomorrow.

GeneProt said the technology would significantly shorten the time required for the discovery and development of new drugs.

“Some companies just entering the proteomics industry say they will be able to provide candidates for clinical testing within a few years. We believe we will deliver potential therapeutic agents within six months,” said Denis Hochstrasser, chairman of GeneProt’s scientific advisory board.

Proteomics is a relatively new research field which involves the systematic analysis of proteins present in tissue samples or biological fluid at a given time.

All biological processes involve changes in proteins, and the total protein profile (the proteome) can vary during the development of an organism, the maturing of cell tissue, and the progression and treatment of disease.

A given biological sample could easily contain more than 100,000 different protein molecules, and there is no limit to the number of variants of each protein.

Protein cataloguing tries to maximise the possibility of finding the more valuable protein variants. Supercomputing technology is needed to identify and characterise a usefully high proportion of these in a reasonable time.

“The speed at which we work should shorten the drug discovery lifecycle and significantly reduce the time it takes to get a final product to market,” said Hochstrasser.

The supercomputing technology includes more than 1,400 computer processors, each capable of performing more than a billion sequence comparisons per hour.

The computing installation is on a scale more often associated with so-called “big science” (nuclear physics, cosmology) or military applications.

GeneProt is using operating systems and processors supplied by United States, computer firm, Compaq. It is the same technology which helped map the first draft of the human genome

GeneProt’s other partners include leading pharmaceutical and technology companies and academic and scientific institutions such as the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis, and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics.

by Vincent Landon

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR