Marie Curie Innovative Training Network FRAGNET awarded to our group

The EU has granted 3.9 M euro to ICREA Research Professor Xavier Barril, group leader at the University of Barcelona, and colleagues from academia and SMEs from Hungary, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and UK. The Marie Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) FRAGNET will explore new research methods and applications in the emerging field of fragment-based drug discovery. The funds granted to the international consortium will allow the recruitment of 15 PhD for the duration of the project.

In the last ten years, fragment-based drug discovery has established itself as a robust and powerful approach to identify good quality hits that can bind to a biological target. The key feature of this approach is that ligand discovery begins with the screening of low molecular weight compounds (fragments) that have a higher chance of binding to a target in comparison to traditional candidate molecules. This means that small libraries of around 1500 compounds are sufficient for finding hits against most targets. Such hits can then be grown or merged to provide lead compounds. Overall, this means a much smaller investment is required in terms of automation and development of compounds in comparison to those required by High Throughput Screening (HTS), thereby enabling small companies and academic groups to participate in the drug hunting efforts. More recently, fragment-based approaches are also used to interrogate biological systems, helping to unravel cellular processes and identify new drug targets.  

The FRAGNET project complements and reinforces Prof. Barril’s research, which focuses on the chemical validation of new therapeutic targets and the development of computational methods to assist this process. Prof. Barril commented: “As a computational chemist with more than 10 years experience in fragment screening, it is evident that both fields are highly synergistic but still insufficiently integrated. FRAGNET offers an ideal opportunity to train the next generation of scientist, who will take Fragment Screening to new heights”.

Barril’s Lab will hire two PhD students who will deliver computational tools to automatize, rationalize and guide the fragment evolution process. The students will also draw complementary knowledge from other members of the network and put the computational tools to the test on life projects carried out by the partners. Equally, several PhD students from other participating institutions will carry out research stays in the lab, thus maximizing the exchange of knowledge.

Academic beneficiary partners: Iwan de Esch (Coordinator, VU University Amsterdam, NL), Rod Hubbard (University of York, UK), Georgy Keseru (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, HU), Xavier Barril (Universitat de Barcelona, SP). Industrial beneficiary partners: Ben Davis (Vernalis, UK), Gregg Siegal (Zobio, NL), Helena Danielson (Beactica, SE), Wolfgang Jahnke (Novartis, CH). Partner organizations: GSK (UK), Roche (CH), Servier (FR), IOTA (UK) and 24 Media Labs (NL).