16 December 2019

EU invests 10 million euro in key technologies in structural biology

To enable researchers from European institutes to extend innovative structural biology research, the European Commission has awarded the project iNEXT-Discovery, an infrastructure project funded with 10 million Euro to provide access to structural biology infrastructures throughout Europe, including the NMR facilities at Utrecht University. Prof. dr. Marc Baldus, dr. Hugo van Ingen, dr. Markus Weingarth and dr. Andrei Gurinov of the NMR Spectroscopy group of the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research are all involved in this project, which is coordinated by prof. dr. Anastassis Perrakis of the NKI in Amsterdam, who is also endowed professor at the Department of Chemistry.

Advancing science beyond the state of the art

iNEXT-Discovery builds on the expertise gained in the iNEXT project, which was coordinated by Utrecht University, to further consolidate the strong role of structural biology in drug development by developing fragment-based lead discovery; develop tools to increase the throughput for electron microscopy and serial X-ray crystallography; integrate structural biology technologies; push nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and other technologies to better describe time scales, molecular states and dynamics; and integrate structural biology approaches for imaging cells. iNEXT-Discovery aims to facilitate the generation of knowledge for the development of, amongst others, new drugs, advanced vaccines, novel biomaterials, engineered enzymes for food production and efficient biofuels. iNEXT-Discovery will do that by enabling leading European facilities to offer advanced technological instrumentation and expertise to all European scientists, allowing them to perform high-end structural biology research with state-of-the-art equipment that is often unavailable in their home countries.

Enabling research without borders

iNEXT-Discovery includes partners from institutions outside of the facility providers that also collaborate on planned joint research projects. Prof. dr. Anastassis Perrakis explains: “Together with regional experts, specifically from the Baltic and Balkan countries, and with five ESFRI communities in the fields of health, biotechnology, and food, we are offering cutting-edge technologies and novel experimental possibilities to all European scientists, enabling experiments that would be impossible without our facilities”. Integration will be further enabled through the extensive and inclusive training program that the iNEXT-Discovery has developed, and that will be deployed in the coming four years.

How to access iNEXT-Discovery facilities

Access to all facilities will be available through an open peer review system that is based on scientific excellence and the potential of each project for enabling translational research. While iNEXT-Discovery expects Open Access publication from all users, it also enables researchers from industry to access its facilities as a fee-for-service, through a dedicated access portal. Starting from the 1st of February 2020, iNEXT-Discovery will be open for applications.

Structural Biology

Structural biology is of paramount importance for basic research in biochemistry, biomedicine and biotechnology, and key for fundamental innovations in health, environment and green economy. Structural biology unravels the 3D-structures of biological macromolecules, helping scientists to understand their roles within the intricate machinery of life, design new macromolecules with better properties for industry or for health, or develop small molecules that interfere with function and can be developed as the drugs of tomorrow. In the past and the present, Europe remains in a leading position in this research area.