With the arrival recently of structural immunologist Roberto J.Poljak from the Pasteur Institute in Paris as its new director,the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB) issolidifying its position as a world leader in exploring thestructure and function of proteins.

CARB, located about 10 miles north of the National Institutes ofHealth in the hub of the Montgomery County, Md.,biotechnology industry, is part of the Maryland BiotechnologyInstitute. "Its basic research objectives are the study of three-dimensional structures of protein molecules, the correlation ofmacromolecule structure and function, gene expression andprotein engineering, the study of the physical chemistry ofmacromolecules, and computational chemistry as a means ofunderstanding enzyme mechanisms, macromolecularrecognition and related concepts," said Poljak, who spent nearly20 years on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicinebefore moving to the Pasteur Institute in 1981.

The 3-year-old facility features state-of-the-art equipment inX-ray diffraction, molecular biology, microcalorimetry, high-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and scientificcomputation, and computer graphics applied to structuralchemistry.

"We are small, but we are planning for an expansion in physicalplant, something that would allow us to go into new branchesof macromolecular structure," Poljak told BioWorld. He said thatCARB hopes to have funding within the next few weeks toconstruct a building that would double the center's current20,000-square-foot laboratory space.

"For example," said Poljak, "we don't have any enzymology assuch here. We could strengthen our resources in X-raydiffraction, in NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), incomputational chemistry and modeling. We could incorporatemore work in eukaryotic systems."

CARB is the joint creation of federal, state and local governmentthrough an agreement between the National Institute ofStandards and Technology (NIST), the University of MarylandSystem and Montgomery County. The center had a budget of$3.9 million for the 1992 fiscal year, including research grantsfrom NIH and the National Science Foundation, and grants andresearch contracts from NIST.In addition to its staff of 55, including 11 principal facultymembers, CARB interacts with industry by hosting visitingscientists, including four during the past year.

While industrial research contracts constitute 10 percent orless of CARB's budget, "this doesn't mean we're notcollaborating actively with industry," Poljak said. Most of thecenter's industrial interactions consist of consulting orproviding facilities rather than licensing intellectual property-- mostly with companies in Maryland.

For example, CARB has provided expertise and test facilities toQuantex Inc. of Rockville, Md., which is developing new X-raydiffraction equipment with small business innovative research(SBIR) grants. "We don't get any remuneration for that exceptat the end," Poljak said. "When their equipment is finally builtand commercialized, we will get one free."

The center has cooperative research and developmentagreements (CRADAs) with ICN Biomedicals of Costa Mesa,Calif., for the automation of protein crystallization, and withIBM Corp. for developing software for protein structuredetermination and analysis. Other formal collaborativeagreements are with Cray Research, Procter & Gamble Co.,Otsuka Pharmaceuticals of Rockville, Berlex Biosciences ofSouth San Francisco, Calif., and W.R. Grace.

"We are very open to any collaboration that can be set up,"Poljak said. "Though we are making an effort to increase(industrial) contacts, I think our best approach is to do the bestquality research that we can. If we do that, I think companieswill come and contact us."

-- David I. Lewin Special to BioWorld

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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