Peter Leadlay is a biochemist who combines techniques from molecular biology and protein chemistry to study structurally complex organic compounds with high biological activity. These compounds, known as polyketides, are produced by certain living organisms and form the basis of many useful pharmaceuticals.
Polyketides are synthesised by large multi-enzyme assemblies called polyketide synthases (PKSs). Peter and his team investigate how these PKS chains can be tailored through genetic and novel selective protein engineering techniques — altering their DNA sequence and subsequently the structure of their active site. Having already developed several clinically useful drugs, Peter aims to uncover further pharmaceutical potential using this approach.
Almost two thirds of all drugs in current use are derived, at least in part, from a natural source. However, many of the polyketide synthase pathways commonly used by bacteria, fungi and plants are yet to be characterised. Therefore, Peter is also aiming to widen our knowledge of this group of compounds, enabling the development of new antibiotics and immunosuppressants, as well as antiparasitic and anticancer drugs.