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.
Darren Tomlinson, Michelle Peckham, Megan Wright, BBSRC (Jun 2018), £150,443
Simon Walker, Royal Society (Jun 2018), £337,601
Tom Thirkell, N8 Agrifood (Jun 2018), £14,870
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Graham Askew with colleagues in Hull and Liverpool, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £150,498
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson & Richard Foster, Kidney Research UK (Apr 2018), £82,821
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000