Will Drugs Soon Be Designed Atom By Atom?

CREATING NEW DRUGS MAY someday resemble cruise-missile design: To get the best aerodynamics, weapons engineers model thousands of combinations of wings and fuselages on powerful supercomputers. The same machines can help drug designers modify existing molecules, increasing their ability to reach and kill a target, such as a cancer cell.

Frederick Hausheer, CEO of San Antonio-based BioNumerik Pharmaceuticals Inc., wants to go further by making drugs according to the laws of physics, atom by atom. Working with Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, Hausheer uses supercomputers to compute possible interactions of atoms in drug molecules with atoms in the target cells. He says the approach has the potential to cut the time and expense of bringing a drug to clinical trials from 5 years and $20 million to 18 months and $1 million.

The odds are against such short cuts. But last week, supercomputer giant Cray Research gave Hausheer a vote of confidence, lending him one of its fastest machines for five years.

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