Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. said today that it is sending aseries of crystal-growing experiments aboard the Discoveryspace shuttle mission scheduled for Thursday.

The experiments are designed to produce high-quality crystalsof FK506 binding protein (FKBP) for use in the Cambridge,Mass., company's program to design immunosuppressive drugsto treat organ transplant rejection and autoimmune diseases.

Vertex hopes to obtain more-uniform crystals than can begrown in the earth's gravity. Space-grown crystals may enableVertex to further clarify the structure of FKBP by improvingthe level of resolution that can be attained using X-raycrystallography, said Richard Aldrich, vice president ofdevelopment.

The company (NASDAQ:VRTX) announced in the May 16 issue ofNature that it had solved the three-dimensional structure ofthe protein that binds to FK506. FK506 prevents activation ofT cells. -- KB

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