Diamond's X-chem fragment screen revealed more than 50 hits of high interest. Pic: Courtesy Diamond Light Source

Covid-19: Diamond Light scientists are ‘working around the clock’ to help combat the coronavirus pandemic

 3 mins | By Gill Oliver
 | Pharma | Healthcare | Biotech | Medical | AI | Covid-19 | Mar 18th 2020

Diamond Light Source is playing a crucial role to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Life science teams at the Oxfordshire-based synchrotron facility have been ‘working around the clock’, carrying out measurements to help international scientific efforts relating to COVID-19.

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The team has also taken the unusual decision to publish all results, as soon as they become available, rather than going via the normal peer-review-by-scientific journals channel.

The decision is intended to speed-up the process and allow the data to be accessed immediately by researchers working to find effective treatments.

Since the disease was identified at the end of December, the scientific community has made rapid progress.
The first virus sequences were discovered in January and structural biologists, led by teams in China, produced significant amounts of information.

After the Shanghai synchrotron was shut down, one of the Chinese scientists leading efforts on COVID-19 approached Diamond’s life sciences director Professor Dave Stuart and asked for support.

As a result, key staff members across Diamond have been carrying out measurements and analysis on non-infectious samples, to support an international network of researchers to identify effective therapies.

The Experimental Hall at Diamond. Pic: Diamond Light Source

This network includes Oxford University Clinical Medicine, which has strengths in immunology and virology, the Rosalind Franklin Institute, also based in Oxford, plus groups in Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan, Thailand and Israel.

Diamond has set up a dedicated website, to share the results.

A link to the website was also emailed last week to networks of international computational chemists, seen as key to the next stage. The hope is they will be able to make use of the information, which is being updated constantly.

Professor Andrew Harrison, chief executive of Diamond Light Source, says: “Diamond is ensuring that it is doing everything possible to support researchers in their efforts to discover more about global disease challenges – such as COVID-19.
“We normally submit all of our research to peer-review by scientific journals before it becomes publicly available. However, this process can take many months and would slow down the global efforts, so we have made the decision to publish all results as soon as they become available.”

He adds: “To date, in addition to identifying a more accurate structure from the Chinese work, 55 new binding targets have been identified using Diamond Light Source’s Life Sciences capabilities and Diamond has also just helped in the determination of a new structure which immediately suggests a potential mechanism of neutralisation for the virus.”
More information can be found on the dedicated website, updated by the Diamond team daily.

  • COVID-19 work at Diamond
    Coronaviruses are a family which includes the common cold, SARS, MERS and the current outbreak of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Since January, Diamond Light Source has been working with researchers in Shanghai and Beijing to understand COVID-19.
  • Researchers at Diamond were able to safely synthesise a protein essential for viral replication and use x-ray crystallography to identify its structure.
  • They solved the structure of the main protease and set about finding drug candidates.
  • Hundreds of molecular fragments were screened, to see if any would bind to the protease.
  • 55 fragments were discovered that could help in the design of drugs.
  • All this data has been published on a dedicated website, so it can be used by all researchers to find treatments.

More about Diamond Light Source

Aerial shot of Diamond Light Source on Harwell Innovation Campus. Pic: Diamond Light Source

  • Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility and is based at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.
  • Shaped like a huge ring, it works like a giant microscope, accelerating electrons to near light speeds, to produce a light 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, which is then directed off into 33 laboratories known as ‘beamlines’.
  • Diamond is funded by the government through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Wellcome Trust.
  • Since the Diamond synchrotron opened, more than 14,000 researchers from academia and industry have used it to conduct experiments.

About the Author

Gill Oliver

Gill Oliver is a professionally trained journalist who’s written for The New Statesman, The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, The Daily Mail’s business section This is Money, The Press Association, The Huffington Post plus a host of national magazines, news agencies and trade and industry journals. She’s also spent nine years reporting on the Oxfordshire business and tech scene for The Oxford Times and The Oxford Mail.

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