Drug Design on the Playstation

playstation-drug-designJust over a year ago I covered the possibility of using the Sony Playstation PS3 console, with its powerful Cell chip composed of a CPU and eight slave processors running Linux to do drug design. Now, Orr Ravitz of Canadian company SimBioSys tells me work is moving on apace in this area.

“We just released the first commercial version of our docking software for the PS3,” Ravitz told the Reactive Chemistry Blog, “We achieved an order of magnitude speed-up on this platform without compromising the accuracy.”

Computer-aided drug design is at the heart of much research in almost every pharmaceutical company, but approaches such as virtual screening and molecular docking, while potential cost- and time-savers have remained out of reach to the small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in drug discovery, who simply cannot afford the computer infrastructure or to the necessary experts required.

“This reality is now changing due to the release of SimBioSys’ docking software, eHiTS, on the Sony PlayStation 3,” says Ravitz, “the software delivers cutting-edge high-performance computing capabilities on a desktop machine.”

“Presentations of eHiTS on the PS3 never fail to create interest,” Ravitz enthuses, “The sleek machine attracts people at exhibitions, and they always joke about how cool it would be to run their jobs on that platform.” Of course, that’s exactly what SimBioSys are doing. “When we say that this is exactly what we do, there is always this moment of ‘are you serious?’,” adds Ravitz, “We are serious, and the rest of the industry is following with several of our competitors already working on porting their tools to GPUs, FPGAs, and Cell.”

The PS3 is as cool as it gets for a computational chemist – a quiet and elegant-looking supercomputer sitting on your desktop, and you can play when your docking is done. with surgeons simulating operations on the Wii, and so-called brain-training on Nintendo DS, and scientific apps for the iPhone, it’s only a matter of time before Micro$oft get in on the act and launch a chemistry set for the Xbox 360.