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DRUGS IN SPACE: 34 PROTEIN CRYSTALS GROWING ABOARD SPACE SHUTTLE

Executive Summary

DRUGS IN SPACE: 34 PROTEIN CRYSTALS GROWING ABOARD SPACE SHUTTLE Columbia include experiments by Upjohn, Schering-Plough, SmithKline Beecham, Lilly, Vertex and Biocryst. The 13-day shuttle mission includes the U.S. Microgravity Laboratory (USML-1) in which scientists will conduct a total of 756 crystallography experiments involving the proteins, according to a University of Alabama- Birmingham press release. UAB's Center for Macromolecular Crystallography is coordinating the research. Columbia blasted off June 25. On board the shuttle is UAB crystallography researcher Lawrence DeLucas, PhD. DeLucas has coordinated nine previous crystallography experiments (from the ground) for shuttle missions beginning in 1984. A total of 13 previous shuttle flights have included crystallography experiments. The shuttle crystal growth missions are designed to produce larger, more precise crystals in microgravity. Because of their instability, the crystals will be recovered "within three hours of landing" and returned to UAB for X-raying, NASA said. Previous missions have had "varying results," UAB noted. However, UAB maintained, "growing large crystals is...one of the space shuttle's major research successes." Among the experiments are a number of AIDS-related projects. According to UAB, Upjohn is studying 2 domain CD4, Vertex is examining HIV-1 protease, Rutgers University is conducting an investigation of HIV reverse transcriptase and the Marshall Space Flight Center is studying an antibody against gp 41. Of the proteins being studied, 60% have been grown in space before, NASA said. Among repeat experiments are BioCryst/UAB's factor D (a complement system activator), SmithKline Beecham's aridicin aglycone (a glycopeptide antibiotic), and Upjohn's malic enzyme (a possible anti-parasitic agent). Vertex is running a total of three experiments: HIV-1 protease, FK506 binding protein (an immunosuppressive drug target), and thermolysin (an enzyme used to make the artificial sweetener aspartame). Other corporate participants come from DuPont Merck, Genentech, Lilly, Sterling and Burroughs Wellcome.
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