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Accepting PhD Students

1994 …2021
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Personal profile

Research interests

My research interests lie at the interface of chemistry and biology, utilising synthetic organic chemistry to investigate biological systems. I am involved in the design, synthesis and use of substrate derivatives as tools to study enzymes of biological and medical importance, with a particular emphasis on carbohydrate processing enzymes. These studies range from detailed investigations into the catalytic mechanisms of enzymes, to the use of this information in the design and synthesis of compounds as potential drug candidates. Some of the current research projects in my group include:

Inhibitors of HIV Integrase

HIV integrase is an enzyme expressed by the HIV virus. Integrase catalyses the incorporation of viral DNA into the genome of the host and as such, is essential for the survival and proliferation of the virus. Integrase is seen as a promising target for the chemotherapeutic treatment of HIV, yet little is known about the precise chemical mechanism through which the enzyme catalyses the integration of viral DNA.

My group is using chemically modified oligonucleotides in combination with protein X-ray crystallography (collaboration with Prof. Gideon Davies, University of York) to characterise crucial DNA-protein binding interactions, as well as the conformation changes the enzyme undergoes upon binding of viral and host DNA. This work will give us a detailed understanding of the catalytic mechanism of HIV integrase.

Information gained on the catalytic mechanism will then used to design and synthesise ‘mechanism-based’ inhibitors specific for HIV integrase.

Mechanism-based Inhibitors of Influenza Neuraminidases

Neuraminidases are enzymes that catalyse the removal of sialic acid residues from various glycoconjugates. The activity of these enzymes is known to be essential for the virulence and survival of several pathogens including the influenza virus. Consequently, influenza neuraminidase has emerged as a target enzyme for the development of anti-viral therapeutics. Indeed two neuraminidase inhibitors are currently marketed as drugs for influenza, namely Relenza® and Tamiflu®. However, it has recently emerged that strains of avian influenza, or 'Bird Flu', have already shown resistance to Tamiflu®. As many today consider that a new and devastating influenza pandemic is inevitable, there is an urgent need to develop new classes of antiviral compounds less susceptible to drug-induced resistance. Work in the laboratory of Prof. Steve Withers (UBC, Vancouver) has shown that fluorinated sialic acid analogues act as ‘mechanism-based’ inactivators to inhibit influenza neuraminidases. These compounds inhibit influenza neuraminidases by specifically targeting crucial residues of the enzyme essential for catalysis. As the neuraminidase is unable to tolerate mutations to these essential residues, drug-induced resistance is less likely to evolve in response to compounds.

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  • 1 Similar Profiles
N-Acetylneuraminic Acid Chemical Compounds
Neuraminidase Medicine & Life Sciences
phosphine Chemical Compounds
Glycoside Hydrolases Chemical Compounds
Human Influenza Medicine & Life Sciences
Nucleophiles Chemical Compounds
Glycosylation Chemical Compounds
Sulfhydryl Compounds Chemical Compounds

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Projects 2006 2021

Research Output 1994 2019

2 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)

Utilization of Staphylococcal Immune Evasion Protein Sbi as a Novel Vaccine Adjuvant

Yang, Y., Back, C., Gräwert, M., Wahid, A., Denton, H., Kildani, R., Paulin, J., Wörner, K., Kaiser, W., Svergun, D., Sartbaeva, A., Watts, A., Marchbank, K. J. & Van Den Elsen, J., 11 Jan 2019, In : Frontiers in Immunology. 9, p. 1-17 17 p., 3139.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Immunogenic compositions comprising Sbi protein and uses thereof

Van Den Elsen, J., Watts, A. & Marchbank, K. J., 31 May 2018, Patent No. PCT/EP2017/080321, 31 May 2018

Research output: Patent

Immunologic Factors
Staphylococcus aureus
2 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)

Structural and functional analysis of anti-influenza activity of 4-, 7-, 8- and 9-deoxygenated 2,3-difluoro-N-acetylneuraminic acid derivatives

McKimm-Breschkin, J. L., Barrett, S., Pilling, P. A., Hader, S., Watts, A. & Streltsov, V., 8 Mar 2018, In : Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 61, 5, p. 1921–1933 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Functional analysis
N-Acetylneuraminic Acid
Structural analysis
Human Influenza
2 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)

The synthesis and kinetic evaluation of aryl α-aminophosphonates as novel inhibitors of T. cruzi trans-sialidase

Chen, Z., Marce Villa, P., Resende, R., Alzari, P. M., Frasch, A. C., Van Den Elsen, J., Crennell, S. & Watts, A., 5 Oct 2018, In : European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 158, p. 25-33 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Molecular modeling
Drug therapy
Chagas Disease
2 Citations (Scopus)
127 Downloads (Pure)

In Situ Quenching of Trialkylphosphine Reducing Agents Using Water-Soluble PEG-Azides Improves Maleimide Conjugation to Proteins

Kantner, T., Alkhawaja, B. & Watts, A., 30 Sep 2017, In : ACS OMEGA. 2, 9, p. 5785-5791 7 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Reducing Agents
Reducing agents
Polyethylene glycols


Bioconjugation Strategies Through Thiol-Alkylation of Peptides and Proteins

Author: Kantner, T., 12 Jul 2015

Supervisor: Watts, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Development of methods for in vitro characterisation of antibody-drug conjugates

Author: Chapman, T., 19 Jun 2019

Supervisor: Watts, A. (Supervisor), Mrsny, R. (Supervisor) & Watson, M. L. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD

Novel disulfide-bridging conjugation chemistry for antibodies as potential anti-cancer therapeutics

Author: Alkhawaja, B., 27 May 2019

Supervisor: Van Den Elsen, J. (Supervisor) & Watts, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD

Structural and pharmacological study of Trypanosoma cruzi trans-sialidase

Author: Chen, Z., 1 Oct 2017

Supervisor: Crennell, S. (Supervisor), Van Den Elsen, J. (Supervisor) & Watts, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Synthesis and evaluation of fluorinated sialic acid derivatives as novel 'mechanism-based' neuraminidase inhibitors

Author: Hader, S., 1 Nov 2011

Supervisor: Watts, A. (Supervisor) & Husbands, S. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD