On 30th of March in Allschwil (Basel), next to the headquarters of several world leading pharmaceutical companies, ELDICO hosted the inauguration event of the world’s first Electron Diffraction Experience Center (check full recording here). With over 250 people present either in person or online, the hows and whys of electron crystallography as a nano-analytical technique that will push drug development for the better were dissected by a superb array of scientists and industry experts among the leading representatives of european crystallography.
Read all about it in our retrospective text, featuring links to the key points of the recorded event below.
Welcome: Basel the perfect place for sophisticated pharmaceutical analytics
At 4pm, after an excited swarm in the hallway of Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, everyone gathered in the event hall, where Professor Florian Zeilhofer, Vice President Innovation of the University of Basel gave a warm welcome speech and highlighted the importance of innovation ecosystems, even more so as he recalled leading a past workshop organized by ELDICO.
Keynote: Electron diffraction is highly needed
The charismatic Dr. Christoph Boss, Head of Drug Discovery Chemistry of Idorsia, leads then the keynote speech. He explains the role of small molecules in biomedical research: during the development of a new drug, thousands of slightly different compounds are produced in parallel, and their structure heavily influences their performance. Idorsia has already secured its spot at the Electron Diffraction Experience Center, in order to test the legitimate assumption that for a typical pharmaceutical company yearly requests and with a success rate of crystallization of only 50%, ED is highly needed.
Roundtable discussion: Exponential growth for electron diffraction expected
The chat is opened by the founder of leadXpro, Prof. Michael Hennig, which is constantly facing the difficulties of traditional crystallography, since «Crystallization of the membrane protein is very challenging». Although at the beginning of their activities in 2015 his company was exclusively focused on X-ray crystallography, now over 80% of the structures are resolved with electron microscopy. He envisions a similar exponential growth for electron diffraction.
The experimental accessibility of the electron density is particularly appealing to Prof. Christian Lehmann, head of Crystallography and Electron Microscopy group at the Max Planck Institute for Kohlenforschung: «As a chemical crystallographer I really take great interest in the structure and the chemistry of molecules; in understanding their chemical bonds from the real electron density, not just from approximations. I am very much looking forward to putting my hands on a machine where I can place a crystal, press a couple of buttons, and then get a diffraction pattern with a machine that uses electrons instead of X-rays».
Using electron diffraction to extract information about interaction between molecules is the future
Professor Paulina Dominiak highlights that she doesn’t need to be convinced of the enormous potential of electron diffraction, instead, she looks towards the future of the technique: «In my lab we are constructing electron density models that are designed to fill the gap between molecular and quantum mechanics. Our dream is to use electron diffraction to extract information about interaction between molecules. This is the future».
Dr. Mihaela Pop, CSO of TeraCrystal and speaker on a former ELDICO webinar, used to be skeptical regarding electron diffraction possibilities. Having had the opportunity to measure a pharmaceutical compound on an ELDICO ED-1 she changed her mind, and has become deeply convinced by the superiority of the technique.
Numerous practical perspectives for industrial users as well as for patent protection and IP
Within the realm of industrial applications, the chemical giant BASF SE uses crystallography to characterize and assess the chemicals they deliver. Dr. Bernd Hinrichsen, BASF’s head of electron microscopy, states his position pro 3D-ED with stunning clarity «I want to measure the real thing, because the real thing is what has the scientific interest, and it is what is important to people that use our products. And this is finally possible with ED».
A very interesting twist of the roundtable goes in the direction of patent claims. Dr. Michael Kaufmann, patent lawyer at BOHEST, explains that in order to claim a patent, the law requires the inventor to deposit not only the chemical formulation of the new compound, but also its conformational arrangement in the stable and functional solid state, as is formed into tablets. The aim of a fast and reliable instrument to look at hundreds of crystals per day becomes a necessity for patented molecules.
Summary and closing
Dr. Sebastian Schegk and Dr. Eric Hovestreydt closed the session by discussing the dedicated electron diffractometer ELDICO ED-1’s specificities while addressing the entire array of topics that were covered throughout the event.
If you are interested in seeing the device in operation and do some test runs or send in a sample the scientific liaison team of ELDICO is eager to show you the performance of the device and solve your nano structure in a fast and reliable way.