25/08/2004 – The European Union has granted nearly _25 million to two large-scale research projects coordinated by the University of Helsinki in the area of protein kinases, a promising class of new drug targets.
Protein kinases are considered to be the largest druggable target class, with approximately 2 per cent of all genes encoding these key cellular enzymes. Kinases regulate critical pathways involved in cell growth, activation, and death, and have been implicated in a wide range of diseases.
The high specificity of kinases means that drugs that target them can show unprecedented levels of efficacy. For example, Novartis recently launched a new tyrosine kinase-targeting drug for chronic myelogenous leukaemia and a rare form of stomach cancer – Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib) – that has shown unprecedented efficacy.
The objectives of the research project are to do basic research on protein kinases and to develop PK inhibitors and activators by designing and screening natural compounds from the European biosphere and compounds from chemical libraries.
The research consortium plans to combine European expertise on basic research on PKs and rational drug discovery, in order to develop new drug candidates for major diseases like cancer, autoimmune disorders, vascular diseases and degenerative brain diseases. The consortium consists of 23 partners from 11 countries.
The project leaders are professor Raimo Tuominen from the UH’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Academy professor Kari Alitalo from UH’s Molecular and Cancer Biology Laboratory.
An integrated research project lead by Prof Tuominen carrying out basic research into PKs was granted over _15 million alone, making it the largest in EU’s 6th framework programme (FP6′s) for Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health.
A biomedical research project lead by Prof Alitalo was granted _9 million and is focusing on the growth and function of the lymphatic vasculature, with a strong emphasis on the discovery of novel regulatory agents.
The lymphatic vasculature is essential for the maintenance of tissue fluid balance and has an essential role in various pathological conditions such as metastasis of cancer.
Recent experiments suggest that inhibition of lymphatic vessel growth in tumours can block metastasis, just as it has been proposed that blocking new blood vessel formation can limit tumour growth.
Novel discoveries in the field could also be applied to the development of new pharmaceuticals for inflammatory and heart diseases, according to the researchers.