Dr. Stephen K. Burley of Rutgers University will deliver the keynote at the New Jersey Big Data Alliance’s 2024 Research Collaboration Forum on February 16th at Saint Peter’s University, entitled Protein Data Bank: From Two Epidemics to the Global Pandemic to mRNA Vaccines and Paxlovid.

Registration is free. Agenda to be announced shortly.

Lecture Abstract:

Structural biologists around the world and the Protein Data Bank (PDB) played decisive roles in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This talk will explain how global three-dimensional (3D) biostructure data was turned into global knowledge, allowing scientists and engineers around the world to understand the inner workings of coronaviruses and develop effective countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2.

State-of-the-art mRNA vaccines, initially designed with guidance from single-particle cryo-electron microscopy structures of the SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV Spike Proteins, benefited more than five billion individuals around the world by preventing viral infections entirely or significantly reducing morbidity and mortality. Structure-guided drug discovery efforts at Pfizer, first initiated in the 2000s in response to the SARS-CoV epidemic and reactivated in 2020 early in the global pandemic, yielded nirmatrelvir — a potent, orally-bioavailable, covalently-acting, peptidomimetic inhibitor of the SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease. This targeted antiviral drug received Emergency Use Authorization from the United States Food and Drug Administration in December 2021, less than two years following public release of the viral genome sequence. It is used clinically for the treatment of acute SARS-CoV-2 infections in a fixed dose combination with ritonavir and sold under the brand name Paxlovid.

Bolstered by open access to research data generated with public and private monies, particularly 3D structures of coronavirus proteins archived in the PDB, basic and applied researchers made a difference when the world desperately needed them to succeed. To underscore the importance of these contributions, I quote Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, “Show me a person who’s vaccinated, got infected, took Paxlovid and died. I can’t find anybody.”

Graphical abstract of Burley protein data bank talk


Stephen Kevin Burley is an expert in data science and bioinformatics, structural biology, and structure-guided drug discovery for oncology. He is the Director of the RCSB Protein Data Bank (RCSB.org). Within Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey he serves as University Professor and Henry Rutgers Chair, Founding Director of the Institute for Quantitative Biomedicine, and Cancer Pharmacology Research Program Co-Leader within the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Burley’s previous roles were Distinguished Lilly Research Scholar, Eli Lilly and Co.; Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President for Research, SGX Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Richard M. and Isabel P. Furlaud Professor, The Rockefeller University; and Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His degrees include M.D. – Harvard Medical School; D.Phil. – Oxford University; and B.Sc. (physics) and Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) – Western University. Burley has published extensively in data science and bioinformatics, artificial intelligence/machine learning, structural biology, and clinical oncology.