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Medicines of the future the target for Imperial's new Genetic Therapies Centre


For Immediate Use
18 June 2001

A new research centre dedicated to genetic therapies - manipulating genes to treat disease - is opened today at Imperial College, London.

Among their first goals is the development of a new safe way to deliver therapeutic genes to target lung disorders and cancers.

Lord Sainsbury, who was reconfirmed as UK science minister last week, will open the Genetic Therapies Centre (GTC) at a ceremony this afternoon.

The Centre has been made possible by major financial support from a Japanese company, the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation and the UK charity, the Wolfson Foundation.

It is housed in the College's new multidisciplinary research site, the Flowers building, on its South Kensington campus. The first director of the GTC is Dr Andy Miller, Reader in organic chemistry and chemical biology.

The GTC unites scientists from across disciplines to work in the emerging area called Chemical Biology. This represents the interface of the life sciences and medical care with chemistry across all of its traditional branches - inorganic, organic, physical. At Imperial College it is purposefully directed towards genetic therapies and its focus is in the GTC.

In order to get chemists and biologists working together without walls, open-plan laboratories were designed by Dr Miller and Justin Noxon of Foster & Partners.

The training of scientists also promises to get a fresh approach. The Centre's philosophy will be that of a 'research hotel', where students and post-docs from around the world will be welcomed.

"Rather than technocrats in a single discipline, we aim to give them the experience and courage to solve what they need to," says Dr Miller.

GTC staff already play a key role in the College's MRes (Masters in Research) degree in Biomolecular Science, and the Centre is expected to be an EU Marie Curie Fellowship training site.

The GTC hopes to become an important centre for Euro-Japanese research collaboration, and has formed a strategic alliance relationship with the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation and Mitsubishi - Tokyo Pharmaceuticals.

Other sources of research funding include the BBSRC, MRC, Wellcome Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

The Centre has strong commercial ties, and Dr Miller is clear that scientists working there should have clear incentives to push the benefits of their research to the market-place.

"We believe in technology spin-out - I don't simply want to make the garden of science more beautiful, I want my science to be used in the marketplace," said Dr Miller.

Dr Miller is the non-executive director and co-founder of the first GTC spinout company, Proteom Ltd. He also believes in forming research partnerships with scientists in laboratories located in the restructuring and developing countries:

"But I want to make sure that wherever we form such partnerships the IPR stays with the scientists in that country for the development of the country concerned."

Partnerships are already underway or envisaged with scientists in Vietnam, in the EU preaccession states (Czech Republic), Ukraine and in the longer term Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Among the current research themes is the development of safe and efficient non-viral vectors ('nanoparticles') for direct use in gene therapy; a project looking at the Proteomic Code - a hinted at second genetic code which may relate the one dimensional world of genes to the 3D world of protein structure and function; and research into the chemistry of stress -studying molecular chaperone proteins, and neuroimmunology - understanding how the brain communicates stress.

-ends-

For further information please contact:

Tom Miller
Imperial College Press Office
Tel: 020 7594 6704
Email: t.miller@imperial.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

1. Construction of the Flowers building and the GTC laboratories was made possible by major financial support from the Wolfson Foundation and Wellcome Trust. The GTC also has a suite of state-of-the-art equipment for multidisciplinary research, thanks to the strategic industrial alliance with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation.

2. There will be facilities for NMR (400 and 600 MHz spectrometers), mass spectrometry (electrospray), CD, fluorescence (steady state and stopped-flow), calorimetry (DSC and ITC), resonant mirror biosensing (IASys device), nanoparticle characterisation (PCS and ZetaSizer), computer modelling/bioinformatics, biomolecule purification (HPLC, FPLC, and CE), and cell/tissue culture (tissue culture-hoods, incubators, centrifuges, sonicators, cold room). There will also be easy access to a cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography installation.

3. GTC web site at: www.biodigm.com/gtc/

4. Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine is an independent constituent part of the University of London. Founded in 1907, the College teaches a full range of science, engineering, medical and management disciplines at the highest level. The College is the largest scientific, technological and medical university institution in the UK, with one of the largest annual turnovers (UKP339 million in 1999-2000) and research incomes (UKP176 million in 1999-2000). Web site at www.ic.ac.uk

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