Tor 20 jun / År 42 / Nr 3 2024

ESS Provides Unique Insights in Drug Target and Drug Candidate Interaction

To actually see the structure of the drug target protein and the candidate drug and how they interact with each other will make it possible to develop compounds with greater effect.

The European Spallation Source (ESS), organised as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), is a multi-disciplinary research facility based on the world’s most powerful neutron source. The unique capabilities of this new facility being built in Lund, Sweden, will both greatly exceed and complement those of today’s leading neutron sources, enabling new opportunities for researchers across the spectrum of scientific discovery, including life sciences, energy, environmental technology, cultural heritage and fundamental physics.
Neutrons have special properties which means that they can give researchers unique information. They are, for instance, very sensitive to hydrogen and water. Water plays a major role in medical applications and biological and medical molecules consists of approx. 50% hydrogen. Information about where the hydrogen atoms point to and the positions of the water molecules is valuable for structure-based pharmaceutical development.
“Being able to actually see the structure of the drug target protein and the drug candidate under investigation and how they interact with each other will make it possible to develop compounds with greater effect. We’ll have an instrument exclusively dedicated to this application,” says Sindra Petersson Årsköld, Scientific Advisor at ESS.
The neutron sources available today are too weak to generate a signal strong enough to produce high-resolution crystal structures of most biologically interesting systems. Then there are systems which you cannot crystallise, like large, multi-component complexes, aggregates and materials. Deuterium labelling in combination with neutron techniques provide unique insights into these elusive systems, both structural and dynamic.
”With these applications and many others gaining ground, life science is a growing field of the neutron domain,” she adds.

Relevant for People’s Everyday Lives
ESS is a tool for scientists to study materials, the atoms and molecules that make them up and how they interact. There are many areas where you need a greater understanding of molecular properties. It could be used to generate and store energy more efficiently, create metals that are lighter and are more energy-efficient to produce, compounds as catalysts as well as scientific and industrial improvements of materials.
”In contrast to CERN and instruments like big telescopes, we study areas that are relevant for people’s everyday lives like biological structures, energy sources, transportation systems, in order to make improvements for the benefit of people and society,” says the Director General of ESS, John Womersley.
The total construction budget of ESS is EUR 1.8 billion and the annual operations budget is estimated to EUR 140 million. Test runs of the accelerator is planned to commence in 2020 and in 2023 the facility will initiate the research programme. ESS will comprise 22 separate experimental stations.
”ESS will provide a capability that doesn’t currently exist. Scientists will be able to study smaller objects and at shorter timescales. It’s beyond what similar facilities can do in Europe today and about five times better than anything else in the world,” he adds.
University and industry research groups have the opportunity to propose experiments on any of the instruments and it’s estimated that approx. 3,000 scientists will use the ESS each year. The data generated in these experiments will be analysed and stored at the ESS Data Management Centre (DMSC) in Copenhagen, Denmark.