Peter Colman is a structural biologist whose discovery of the three-dimensional structure of viral neuraminidase, an enzyme with a central role in enabling the spread of the influenza virus, led to a new class of anti-flu drug. Originally a physicist, he soon became interested in the potential of physics to address biological problems.
Peter realised that once researchers understood the structure of an enzyme, they could design a drug to fit its active site and stop it from working. Hence, his discovery of zanamivir — the first drug to inhibit neuraminidase — was an early example of a now routine method of drug discovery. Peter’s strategy of developing drugs to target regions of enzymes that remain structurally unchanged, even as viruses evolve, enabled stockpiling of drugs for pandemics.
Peter has also made significant contributions to determining the structures of antibodies and their complexes with antigens — molecules that induce the body’s immune response. However, his research now focuses on proteins with important roles in apoptosis, a process that leads to the controlled death of a cell.