New international consortium to advance GPCR research for drug development

The generation of high-resolution pictures of hundreds of medically important proteins known as G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) will be the goal of an ambitious new international partnership. Called the GPCR Consortium, this non-profit initiative brings together major pharmaceutical companies and leading research institutes from three continents to advance GPCR research for drug development. The human body is controlled by 826 GPCRs, which are involved in a wide variety of human physiology and are implicated in many diseases. As a drug target, GPCRs are highly valuable but mechanistically poorly understood and with limited structural information that could greatly aid in finding new drug candidates.

The GPCR Consortium was started by Professor Raymond Stevens, who is focused on the structure and function of GPCRs and human cell signaling, and is coordinated by Dr. Michael Hanson, a leader in GPCR structural biology. All research outputs such as three-dimensional structures of GPCRs and constructs will be compiled and placed in the public domain. The consortium is data-centric, with the primary objective being dissemination of protein structural coordinates, reagents and supporting data to both the consortium members and the broader scientific community.

Amgen (United States), Sanofi (Europe) and ONO (Japan) are the founding industry members of the GPCR Consortium. The research is currently planned to be conducted, but not limited to three leading academic sites: iHuman Institute at ShanghaiTech University, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of Southern California inLos Angeles. The GPCR Consortium hopes to attract up to five additional industry members to achieve the initiative's goal of determining structures of 200 of the 826 known human GPCRs, prioritized in disease areas that initially include diabetes, cancer, and mental disorders.

"Industry and academic consortia like the not for profit Structural Genomics Consortium are becoming a more common model to support scientific research on the international scale, including the open exchange of data and reagents, including compounds," says Professor Raymond Stevens, founding director of the iHuman Institute at ShanghaiTech University and Provost Professor of Biology and Chemistry at University of Southern California. "By working together, we can maximize the impact of our research on human health and disease while providing a means to support early-stage basic research and bring together academic and industry scientists in a productive working relationship."

"The academic groups involved in the consortium have published both the first human GPCR structure and the majority of GPCR structure-function and discovery data, including structures from the major classes of the GPCR family," said Dr. Michael Hanson, President of the GPCR Consortium. "The importance of this family of proteins for human health cannot be overstated as communication with the environment is a hallmark of higher functioning organisms and GPCRs play a central role in this process."

From Our Consortium Members:

"ShanghaiTech University is a new international university at the cutting edge of science, and we are very pleased to work at the boundary of industry and academia in the basic science area of G-protein coupled receptor research as part of this consortium. By accessing compounds from industry and making the data that emerges from this effort public, we expect tremendous impact that will help mankind," said Vice President Yin Jie, ShanghaiTech University.

Dr. Mingqiang Zhang, Head of Amgen Asia R&D Center, stated:

We are very pleased to be one of the founding industry members of this prestigious consortium. By working together with the leading academics in GPCR structural biology, many of whom are co-located with our Asia R&D Center in Shanghai, we can better synergize our efforts in understanding human biology at molecular level and advancing drug discovery in diseases where GPCRs play significant roles, including cancer, metabolic and CNS disorders.

"USC is committed to innovation in biomedical research that requires large consortia of academic and industrial partners. We can only begin to imagine the breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases that will be a direct outcome of the work done by GPCR scientists, right here in Los Angeles and across the world," said University of Southern California Dornsife Dean Steve Kay.

"We believe the advances we will make with the GPCR Consortium and share with the scientific community will speed the development of better healthcare to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat human diseases," added Dr. Kazuhito Kawabata, Member of the Board of Directors, Executive Officer and Executive Director, Discovery and Research of ONO.

Hualiang Jiang, Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, added:

Indeed, the GPCR consortium will greatly enhance the collaboration between industry and academia and will produce valuable data around GPCR structure and function. I am sure that this consortium will attract more and more attention from both industry and academic communities alike.

"Sanofi is passionate about improving health worldwide and to deliver on that, we are committed to collaborating with the world's best researchers and scientists. With global diabetes sufferers expected to increase to 592 million before 2035, and the rates in Asia Pacificregion set to soar, I am confident that our partnership with the GPCR Consortium will combine our strengths and insights and bring us one step closer to a breakthrough in treatment benefiting the regional and global diabetes patients," said Dr. Frank Jiang, Head of Asia Pacific R&D Hub, Sanofi.

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