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DRUG DISCOVERY: SCHERING SECOND GENERATION GAMMA INTERFERON

Executive Summary

DRUG DISCOVERY: SCHERING SECOND GENERATION GAMMA INTERFERON is one of several compounds under study in crystallography experiments aboard the space shuttle Discovery during a four-day mission that began Sept. 29. Schering is one of five drug companies providing NASA's Center for Macromolecular Crystallography with protein samples for a payload investigation of the quality of crystals grown in a microgravity environment. Specifically, Schering-Plough is working toward the development of slightly altered gamma interferon formulations that will improve on the chemical that occurs in nature. During the year, the company ended its anticancer clinical program with a recombinant version of natural gamma interferon. A recent NASA press release explains that protein crystallography is a scientific tool for determining an enzyme's three-dimensional structure, thereby providing scientists with information that might facilitate the design of drugs that can block or alter the enzyme's function. The zero-gravity environment of space, NASA said, facilitates the growth of crystals that are larger than those that can be grown in the earth's gravitational field. Other pharmaceutical companies participating in the crystallography experiments aboard Discovery include Burroughs Wellcome, Merck, Upjohn and DuPont. Burroughs Wellcome is studying the structure of reverse transcriptase, a key enzyme in the replication of the AIDS virus. One of DuPont's experiments focuses on alpha 1-B, a synthetic peptide that mimics ion channels in cell membranes. Merck is providing elastase, an enzyme associated with the degradation of lung tissue in emphysema patients. Two Upjohn proteins are on board Discovery -- recombinant human renin and phospholipase A2. The former plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure, while the latter may have applications for pain and inflammation.

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