Protein Data Bank Marks 50 Years of Lifesaving Scientific Collaboration and Coordination

Rutgers University

Stephen K. Burley believes that if the COVID-19 global pandemic has taught society anything it is that sharing scientific information is key to saving precious time, avoiding duplication of effort, and accelerating the research needed to discover and develop new life-saving drugs and vaccines.

That didn’t happen 20 years ago when Burley, a clinician-scientist who at that time was head of research at SGX Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a cancer-focused biotechnology company located in California. Burley’s company deposited the first three-dimensional (3D) structure of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus protein into the Protein Data Bank, the global open access biostructure data resource containing more than 180,000 structures used worldwide by researchers to unlock the mysteries of human disease.

As chair of the scientific advisory board of the RCSB Protein Data Bank (PDB) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in 2003, a decade before joining the faculty at Rutgers, Burley hoped data sharing by SGX Pharmaceuticals would help in the fight against the SARS epidemic.

He thought others would follow the SGX lead, share data and work together to discover drugs to treat the respiratory illness that emerged in China and spread to four other countries, including the United States, killing more than 800 individuals before it was brought under control.

He continued to believe the same when the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) epidemic hit a decade later. Again, that did not happen.

“Our decision back in 2003 surprised competitors, because SGX structure data were made available without usage restrictions or royalty obligations,” said Burley, now University Professor and Henry Rutgers Chair at Rutgers-New Brunswick and director of the RCSB PDB and the Rutgers Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine. “I was confident that drug companies would build on the open-access data and produce anti-SARS drugs. Not one was forthcoming.”

As the Protein Data Bank celebrates its 50th anniversary Burley’s hopes have been realized. Scientists around the globe are working together using 3D protein structure information stored in the PDB to discover and develop vaccines and drugs that will protect the world’s population, not only against the current pandemic but also future coronavirus outbreaks.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.