Eight leading drug, chemical and computer companies have formed a San Diego-based consortium to develop computer programs that will help them better understand the way molecules interact.
The consortium could slash research costs and speed the development of new chemical and pharmaceutical products, said David H. Klipstein, president of Biosym Technologies, which has been organizing the group for the past year. Biosym is a small, privately held San Diego-based company that develops molecular computer modeling tools for the chemical research industry.
In addition to Biosym, the consortium includes Abbott Laboratories, Cray Research, Du Pont, Monsanto, Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Rohm & Haas and Upjohn Co.
The consortium will use powerful computers to formulate mathematical models that will simulate chemical interactions that otherwise would have to be studied in time-consuming laboratory experiments, Klipstein said Monday.
The companies already had begun developing their own molecular modeling programs, Klipstein said, but joined the San Diego consortium to speed basic research in the field, which is "crucial to the growth of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries."
Molecular research is "just entering an era . . . where scientists can use computers to experiment with different variations and combinations," said Klipstein.
"Although they're not talking about a gigantic breakthrough or a new technology, it is very important to know exactly what the potential functions of molecules are," said Robert Kraut, a chemistry professor at UC San Diego, who described the consortium's research as "a refinement (of existing knowledge) that should have been done a long time ago."
Consortium members hope to develop "accurate descriptions of how individual molecules act and how different molecules interact," said Robert Fletterick, a professor of biochemistry at UC San Francisco.
The three-year program will have a $250,000 budget during the first year, said Klipstein.
Biosym's five-person research staff will be augmented by research of individual consortium members. Research will be conducted on computers at Biosym, at member companies and at the Minneapolis headquarters of Cray Research, which builds so-called supercomputers that quickly process millions of bits of information.
Biosym has been using existing but less sophisticated mathematical modeling formulas to develop its own line of molecular modeling programs, said Klipstein.
Consortium members, who are contributing both funding and staff, will share in research findings. Biosym plans to add the new computer programs generated by the consortium to its line of molecular computer modeling programs.