The project - the European Drug Initiative for Channels and Transporters (EDICT) - will target about 80 proteins, which play an important role in human diseases as varied as diabetes, heart disease, neuropsychiatric disorders like epilepsy and depression, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers and cataracts.
Membrane proteins are key to every process in the human body, channelling ions or transporting chemicals and so are ideal targets for new treatments. Infections by pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites also involve their own membrane proteins, which can be specific targets for development of new drugs and antibiotics.
The research is mainly funded by the European Commission, involves twenty-seven partners from twelve countries - including two Nobel Laureates - and is set to last four years.
Coordinating the project is Peter Henderson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences.
"Membrane proteins are seen by many as the next potential source of drug development, and so the EC is keen to fund research in this area," he said. "However, they are difficult to study and are poorly understood, though the recent sequencing of the human and other genomes show they make up about one third of all proteins in all organisms, including humans."
"At the moment, few groups of membrane proteins are being seriously investigated by the pharmaceutical industry, so this project will help to fill that gap. By bringing together the best scientists in this challenging field from all over Europe, we hope to make a real advance towards new treatments for key diseases."
Industry has also seen the benefit of bringing such expertise together under one umbrella and working with the academics will be pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and a smaller company, Xention, which specialises in the discovery and development of novel and selective ion channel drugs.
The researchers include biologists, structural biologists, chemists and experts in the three key technologies: x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and electron microscopy.
The team aims to map out the structure of the proteins, so they can identify compounds that could be developed as a treatment for these diseases. Where they have already mapped some structures, the team will have a head start and hope to make real advances towards new treatments.
Other researchers joining the project from Leeds include Professors Steve Baldwin and Carola Hunte from the Faculty of Biological Sciences and Professor Peter Johnson and Dr Colin Fishwick from the School of Chemistry. All are members of Leeds' Astbury Centre, the leading interdisciplinary research centre in the UK studying how life works at an atomic level.
The two Nobel Laureates involved in the research are Director of the Medical Research Council's Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, Professor Sir John Walker, who also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Leeds, and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany, Professor Hartmut Michel.
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034