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A family gathering unlike others: ESRF welcomes industrial users


They are a different type of users. Some have never even been here before. In most cases, the results of their research at the ESRF remain undisclosed to the outside world, although it may well have a use in the design of new drugs. The ESRF has already more than 100 industrial customers. In late October 2007, around 40 users or potential users from pharmaceutical companies around the globe visited the ESRF in the framework of the 15th Protein Structure Determination for Industry (PSDI) workshop, held in the alpine village of Autrans.

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Among the visitors there was representation of some of the biggest names in pharmaceutical companies worldwide, but also researchers from small and mid size companies. Jay Bertrand, from Nerviano medical sciences in Milan (Italy), is an ESRF user since 2003 and does not regret it. “A sum of factors makes us choose the ESRF”, explains Jay Bertrand. “The quality of the beamlines, the varied offer of beamlines depending on the experiment and relatively short distance from my company makes it the best choice for our research”.

Distance does not seem to be a problem for UK-based potential user Andrew Turnbull, from Cancer Research Technology. “We are a crystallography team of two people and can’t afford to leave the lab to fly over here, so sending the samples by courier service to the ESRF scientists here so that they do the experiment on our behalf is the best option”, he asserts. “We have full trust in their expertise and the transport of samples is pretty reliable nowadays”, he adds.


Keeping their eyes peeled. Elspeth Gordon (second left) shows the attentive group one of the macromolecular crystallography beamlines on 31 October 2007.

The income generated from pharmaceutical companies represents 2/3 of all industrial activities at the ESRF and is mainly used to improve the performance of the macromolecular crystallography beamlines. “They are our biggest clients”, explains Manuel Rodríguez, head of the Industrial and Commercial Unit at the ESRF. “So far the collaboration with the different companies has been a success story. The proof is in the pudding: the demand from biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies for beam time has been increasing steadily over the years”.

This visit was the part of the programme of the PSDI workshop, which this time was hosted by the ESRF and held in the nearby village of Autrans. This is an annual event for structural biologists working in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The focus of the 2007  meeting was on comparing different approaches to drug discovery and the various techniques and biophysical methods used for optimising them.

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