UK-China partnership to tackle global health epidemics

University of Birmingham (UoB) scientists are working with partners in Guangzhou to develop new drugs that could help to tackle global health epidemics that also have an impact on China’s rural communities.

The University of Birmingham reports its researchers identified a promising hit for anti-tuberculosis therapy and quickly initiated a drug discovery effort. Researchers at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health (GIBH) are now working with the University of Birmingham scientists to design and synthesise new molecules with better drug-like properties.

At the University of Birmingham, the effort is led by Professor John Fossey, and Director of the Birmingham Drug Discovery Facility, Dr Luke Alderwick, from its Schools of Chemistry and Biosciences. At GIBH, the efforts are headed by Dr Cleopatra Neagoie, chemistry team leader, and Micky Tortorella, head of the drug discovery centre.

Visiting facilities at GIBH, University of Birmingham Provost, Professor Tim Jones, said “The University of Birmingham is a world leader in molecular chemistry and biosciences, and our partnership with experts at GIBH is making promising progress in the fight against global health epidemics. We are a global university with a civic outlook and I am delighted that our research with colleagues at GIBH is progressing development on compounds that could help to improve health outcomes for millions of people, particularly in communities across rural China.”

Scientists in the two countries are using online tools to progress their research. One of the most important of these is the University of Birmingham’s BEAR DataShare facility. This allows the team to share project-related data across the world, even by mobile phone, using a specially developed app.

John Fossey said “We designed the chemistry at Birmingham and a team of expert GIBH researchers have been synthesising and optimising the molecules. This has led to the development of a number of compounds, which are looking really promising as potential therapeutic treatments. Working online has been essential for us and one of the most useful tools has been the University’s own BEAR DataShare platform. This has allowed us to smoothly share project data across borders – contributing greatly to the success and sustainability of our partnership.”

GIBH is a high profile research institute, run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Government of Guangdong Province and the People’s Government of Guangzhou Municipality. Research areas include stem cell and regenerative medicine, chemical biology, public health, immunology and infectious diseases.

Micky Tortorella said “We are happy to be working with a capable team at UoB to develop de nova drugs that have applicability globally. Resistant TB is an unmet medical need in China and this joint project is very important to the citizens of China. Great things are on the way.”

By enhancing its capability of local innovation and competency in the field of biomedicine and health, GIBH aims to be a R&D centre specialising in the core technology of pathogenic mechanisms and biomedical and chemical sciences, a platform contributing to the improvement of global biomedicine and relevant industries, a base attracting and cultivating leading talents in international science frontier, and a window in South China for bringing in international cooperation in the field of biomedicine.

Driven by the demands of the Chinese national health and the development of biomedicine, GIBH is dedicated to focusing on leading research in pathogenic mechanisms, technological innovation, and high level integration. Additionally, GIBH seeks to enhance its capability of R&D and commercialisation in the fields of biomedicine, vaccines and diagnose in order to promote the development of Chinese and global standard of health care and medicine.

There are close links between the two organisations and University of Birmingham doctoral researcher Yixin Cui is currently the third PhD student from the university to spend time in China working closely with the team in Guangzhou.

The University of Birmingham has a long standing relationship with the city of Guangzhou, which is also the sister city of Birmingham. The University opened its Guangzhou Centre in 2011 and its China Institute has forged close links with partners in the city and beyond.

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