Smallpox Research Grid Project links more than two million computers in search for smallpox cure

Armonk 05 February 2003IBM, United Devices and Accelrys have initiated a project supporting a global research effort that is focused on the development of new drugs that could potentially combat the smallpox virus post infection. The project will be powered through a massive computing "Grid" that will enable millions of computer owners worldwide to contribute idle computing resources with the goal of developing a wide collection of potential anti-smallpox drugs.


Results from the Smallpox Research Grid Project will be delivered to the United States Department of Defense's Office of the Secretary of Defense. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is currently no specific treatment for smallpox post infection, and the only prevention is vaccination. However, routine inoculation was discontinued following the WHO effort to eradicate smallpox.

The Smallpox Research Grid Project will provide researchers at Oxford and Essex Universities in the United Kingdom and smallpox experts at the Robarts Research Institute, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the University of Western Ontario with the computing horsepower needed to identify new anti-viral drugs.

The Smallpox Research Grid Project is based on technologies and services from IBM, United Devices, Accerlys, and Evotec OAI. These commercially available technologies and services are currently used by many pharmaceutical and biotechnology drug companies to improve and accelerate their drug discovery and development processes. An emerging technology called Grid computing allows researchers to pool computing resources such as processing, network bandwidth, and storage capacity for large research projects.

The project employs computational chemistry to analyse 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.

"IBM and the other project partners 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", stated Tom Hawk, general manager, Grid computing for IBM. "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 modelling and development."

Individuals can participate in the Smallpox Research Grid Project by downloading a screensaver. The screensaver will unobtrusively donate the computer's idle processing power and link it into a worldwide Grid that will act as a virtual supercomputer capable of analysing billions of molecules in a fraction of the time it would take in a laboratory.

Once processing is complete, the programme will send results back to United Devices' data centre, powered by an IBM infrastructure, and will request new data to analyse. The new data will then be analysed by the individual machine and the results returned the next time the computer user connects to the Internet.

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

"We have had great success using our massive Global MetaProcessor Grid to target anthrax and cancer research", stated 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."

The Smallpox Research Grid Project is enabled through the expertise, financial and technical capabilities of a number of businesses and educational institutions. These include:

  • United Devices, specialised in secure Grid solutions, which is co-ordinating all aspects of the project. 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.
  • IBM: 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 analysing billions of virtual drug screens.
  • Accelrys, a software developer in life sciences, 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 analyse molecular data. Using LigandFit, scientists and researchers can accurately predict and prioritise the suitability of potential lead drug candidates for subsequent experimentation and drug development.
  • Evotec OAI, an outsourcing service provider for the drug discovery and development process, has provided its drug modelling 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 Dr. Grant McFadden, scientist at Robarts Research Institute and graduate chair of the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Ontario; Dr. Stewart Shuman, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research; Professor Graham Richards, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Oxford; and Professor Chris Reynolds, Department of Biological Sciences at Essex University.
  • The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases team 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 a military weapon.

The Smallpox Research Grid Project screensaver can be downloaded at the Grid Project Web site.

Leslie Versweyveld

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