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Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology

In 1996, The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology was established at The Scripps Research Institute, made possible by an extraordinary commitment of $100 million from Aline W. and L.S. Skaggs through the Skaggs Institute for Research and their family foundation, The ALSAM Foundation. Scientific members of The Skaggs Institute hold dual appointments in one of TSRI's research departments. They have broad expertise in determining the structure of biological macromolecules, devising chemical and antibody catalysts, synthesizing natural products and combinatorial libraries, effecting molecular recognition, and designing methods for molecular modeling. These programs give the Institute its research identity at the interface of chemistry and biology in the United States and worldwide.

Some major accomplishments have included the determination of the crystal structure of the T-cell receptor, the synthesis of antitumor agents, the discovery of multipurpose antibodies, the characterization of lipidlike hormones, the regulation of cell adhesion molecules and the invention of self-replicating peptides. A more subtle accomplishment has been the synergy that The Skaggs Institute has made possible between research groups.

For example, an initiative in RNA chemistry and biology is focused on understanding the structure and function of these key molecules of life that will ultimately lead to new therapeutic agents. As another example, four groups now work in molecular evolution. The depth of this effort has made The Skaggs Institute the leading edge for research in this field. A third cohesive effort is in drug design, which brings the Institute's structural and computational facilities for proteins and nucleic acids together with the expertise in organic synthesis and combinatorial chemistry.

The capability of The Skaggs Institute to assume broad, long-term projects makes it unique, and its leadership is evaluating strategic opportunities in newly emerging fields that blend chemistry with biology. Nowhere does this seem more likely than in the opportunities expected to emerge from the sequencing of the genomes of living organisms and from the conversion of biological information pouring out of such projects to a science at the molecular level. This conversion will involve determining the genes that encode the specific proteins, receptors or nucleic acids associated with a particular state; unraveling the interactions of those genes; and controlling the interactions by means of appropriate synthetic agents. Because an enormous array of small molecules is already available through combinatorial chemical synthesis, it seems inevitable that the disciplines of genomics and combinatorial chemistry will meet at the biological macromolecules -- the therapeutic targets -- of the disease.

The goal of The Skaggs Institute is to maintain itself as a model for research in chemical biology and to provide a nurturing environment for the next generation of scientists. The ultimate research identity of The Skaggs Institute will be the scientists it produces.