University of Warwick - Equipment Account

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Chemistry


This proposal is to design, build, validate and exploit the features of a new Raman spectrometer that will collect Raman, Raman Optical Acitity (ROA), and Raman Linear Difference (RLD) spectra. ROA is well-established, but comparatively under-used as a means of probing secondary and tertiary structures of proteins and other biomacromolecules. RLD is a newly invented technique (Rodger et al. Analytical Chemistry, 2012) that can be used to give relative orientations of subunits of complex molecular assemblies. Raman spectroscopy provides access to the wealth of information available in vibrational spectroscopy without the challenges which confront infra red absorbance where water signals dominate. This project builds on the investigators' acknowledged expertise in developing novel spectroscopies for the study of biomolecules. It follows their success (measured by the increase in publications and linear dichroism (LD) instrument sales triggered by their work over the past 10 years) in making UV-LD an available technology.

The motivation for developing a new form of spectroscopy is that the structures and arrangements of molecules, including sugars and lipids, that play key roles in the structures and functions of biomacromolecules are invisible to many techniques. Further, existing techniques do not provide sufficient information for many applications. Atomic-level techniques including crystallography and NMR are not well-suited to large irregular molecular assemblies where the structures of both the macromolecule and surrounding molecules contribute to the function of the components. Circular dichroism, which is currently the most widely used method for determining solution-phase secondary structures of proteins, has comparatively low information content and usable concentration ranges. Thus we need alternative approaches to provide the required information. We believe different forms of Raman spectroscopy can contribute to addressing these issues, but the required instrumentation has not yet been invented.

The main applications of the instrument in the lifetime of the funding will be:

1. Understand atomic-level structures and functions of biomacromolecules in cellular assemblies which is essential if we wish to control biological processes, such as cell division, for disease control and biotechnology applications.

2. Enhance efficiency in the development and production of pharmaceutical (small molecule) and biopharmaceutical (proteins, nucleic acids, viruses, bacteria) products by improving the approach to Process Analytical Technology (PAT) and helping to enable 'Quality by Design' (QbD). The hypothesis underlying QbD for pharmaceutical drugs, is that quality in production can be planned, and that most quality crises and problems relate to the way in which quality was (or was not) planned in the first place. QbD operates fairly effectively in the pharmaceutical industry. Regulators such as the European Medicines Agency are looking to expand the concept and process of QbD from pharmaceutical products to biopharmaceuticals. However, the analytical methodologies that are possibly sufficient for pharmaceuticals are clearly not adequate for biopharmaceuticals. New challenges are also being brought by the emerging 'Biosimilars' market: most simply, what is 'highly similar'?

A wide user community will be established. The applications of the first users will be mainly with proteins, protein fibres, protein assemblies including bacteriophage, and membrane systems.

Planned Impact

Analytical science is a key feature of the success of any fundamental or applied research programme and underpins industrial progress and production. Therefore to achieve the next level of innovation in European research and industry we need new techniques and scientists trained in new ways to use them. The goal of this project is to design, build, validate and encourage use of a new instrument for biomacromolecule characterization. Within the lifetime of the project our aim is to have the Raman Linear Difference (RLD) and Raman Optical Activity (ROA) instrument being part of the biomacromolecule characterisation armoury of ~12 academic research groups and one industrial group by the end of the project. We shall achieve this by the following.
(i) Involve SGS M-Scan Ltd in the project producing data on their samples in the first instance, then involving then in developing new methods for biopharamceuticals
(ii) Include the new methodology of RLD and also ROA in the UK/EU Circular Dichroism/Linear Dichroism workshop that has been designed to take place mid-term in the project. We shall invite collaborators L. Nafie of Syracuse and BioTools Inc. and J. Cheeseman of Gaussian Inc. to contribute to the workshop.
(iii) Encourage every user of the unique linear dichroism facilities at Warwick to make samples available for RLD data collection. This will help establish a library of useful data and also indicate where scientists will benefit from using RLD.
(iv) Publications in high quality journals and conference presentations.

The variety of researchers who will measure spectra on the new instrument will benefit from learning a new technique and expanding their structural characterization possibilities.

This is a short project, without any postdoctoral research associates. The direct opportunities for Outreach will be limited to laboratory tours, student placements, and University open days.

At the conclusion of the project we shall have a new instrument up and running and available to the wider community. We anticipate that the research groups of the applicants will use ~1/3 of the available time; other Warwick users a further ~1/3; and external users ~1/3. The balance between industrial and academic users is anticipated to evolve as a function of time with initial dominance by researchers in academia followed by increasing use by biopharmaceutical users. The drive towards 'Quality by Design' of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products is motivated by the need to increase the efficiency of the European manufacturing platform in order to increase its economic viability. A step-change in how processes are controlled is required to proceed to the next level. Quality by Design is a driver for the development of the new instrument as it requires more understanding of the nature of a product and production process than has previously been possible. The European approach to QbD has been developed together with the FDA and Japan and is summarized in International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH) guidelines. However, these developments have made it clear that we do not have the technologies required either for the pre-production phases of QbD or for the production phases where continuous, fast, non-peturbative in- or on-line testing at the point of manufacture is required to allow correction or at least to avoid expensive further processing.

We anticipate that both the new spectrometer and the new Couette flow cell will become products for respectively BioTools Europe Ltd, BioTools Inc. and Crystal Precision Optics. BioTools Inc have already informally discussed how this might work in the future.


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