United Devices' Smallpox Research Grid delivers results to U.S. Department of Defense at British Embassy

Austin 30 September 2003United Devices, IBM and Accelrys, along with several technology and research partners, delivered the results of the Smallpox Research Grid project to representatives from the United States Department of Defense in an event hosted by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The event marked the completion of an important first-stage in finding a treatment for smallpox.

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"We know that ordinary people and corporations from virtually every country came together to assist the scientific team in this research led by Professor Richards at Oxford University and we are very pleased to host this event", stated Tony Brenton, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy. "This project, because of its sheer scale and power, has attracted the attention of both scientific and political leaders who are interested in understanding how the combination of private technology and public participation can enable similar life-saving research."

The project screened thirty-five million potential drug molecules against nine models of the smallpox protein to determine if any of the drug-like molecules would bind to, and inactivate the smallpox protein. Volunteers from over 190 countries donated their spare CPU power at www.grid.org, the world's largest public computing resource, and contributed over 39.000 years of computing time in less than six months. Preliminary results have dramatically narrowed the field of molecules that can be considered lead candidates for the next phase of research.

"This represents massive progress in thwarting the threat of smallpox but also a significant opportunity for all life science research", stated Professor Graham Richards, chairman of the chemistry department at Oxford University. "This resource has the potential to find leads against both bioterror and disease agents in a fraction of the time science is accustomed to."

Currently, smallpox vaccination is only preventive, not a cure, and vaccination immunity fades over a long period of time. Serious side effects including death may result from administration of a smallpox vaccine. In addition, many people whose immune system does not function correctly must not be given the vaccine. These would include young children, pregnant mothers and those on certain medications. A drug for the treatment of smallpox would be useful in an emergency situation from a logistical and health perspective.

"The results of the Smallpox Research Grid are a dramatic illustration of the power of Grid computing to harness the world's computing resources to improve the lives of people around the globe", stated Tom Hawk, general manager, Grid Computing, IBM. "IBM believes the potential of Grid computing to address similar Grand Scale research projects is unlimited."

"We are grateful to the sponsors, researchers, members and technology providers who facilitated this important research", stated Ed Hubbard, United Devices' CEO. "This is the second time we have utilized the Grid computing technology of Grid.org in order to accelerate important counter-bioterrorism research. All of our members can take great satisfaction that they stepped up and took real action in the war against terror."

In addition to researchers at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) who funded the project, technologies and services provided by IBM, United Devices, Accelrys, Evotec OAI, the University of Oxford, 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 Center; and Professor Chris Reynolds, Department of Biological Sciences at Essex University were necessary in making the project a success.

"Not only have we contributed research data that may help scientists to reduce the threat from smallpox, but we were able to generate these results in an incredibly short timeframe", stated Scott Kahn, chief science officer at Accelrys. "This clearly demonstrates that the combination of Grid technologies and scientific computation techniques has reached an extremely exciting point where it begins to have a real impact on critical discovery problems."

United Devices is specialised in secure Grid computing solutions. The company's Grid MP platform is used to aggregate compute resources on a network to create an enterprise Grid capable of running a wide range of high performance computing applications in life sciences, geosciences, manufacturing, financial services, chemical engineering and other industries. The company's solutions are available in both enterprise and on-demand deployments. United Devices also operates grid.org, the world's largest public Grid for grand-scale research consisting of more than 2 million devices in over 220 countries.

More information on the Smallpox Research Grid project is available in the VMW March 2003 article Smallpox Research Grid Project links more than two million computers in search for smallpox cure.


Leslie Versweyveld

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