Distributed computing racks up anti-cancer wins

A UK project that pulls together the spare CPU cycles of PCs across the world has identified a clutch of molecules with cancer-fighting qualities

A project that uses distributed computing techniques to search for anti-cancer drugs says that its work is yielding useful results.

The UK-based Find-A-Drug group announced on Wednesday that it has helped identify more than 40 molecules that may have the potential to fight the proliferation of cancer. It has conducted this work by using the spare processing power of thousands of personal computers to test millions of small molecules to see if any of them might be able to inhibit the growth of a cancer cell.

More than 500 million separate molecules have been evaluated by Find-A-Drug, a pool from which two hundred possible candidates were identified and tested by the US National Cancer Institute. Keith Davies, scientific director of Find-a-Drug, announced on Wednesday that 42 of the 200 molecules tested showed the desired anti-cancer properties. "Find-A-Drug has now found growth inhibitors for five anti-cancer protein targets," he said.

This success illustrates the effectiveness of distributed computing projects such as Find-a-Drug, which itself is far less powerful than some similar schemes.

More than 13,000 PC users have downloaded the software needed to take part in the Find-A-Drug scheme, generating more than 1,000 years of computer time.

In comparison, a similar project run by Oxford University's Centre for Computational Drug Discovery has already chugged through at least 225,000 years of computer time, with the support of more than 2.5 million PCs, since launching in early 2001.

Find-A-Drug, which is a non-profit making organisation, is also looking for drugs to fight HIV and SARS. Its software can be downloaded here.