University of Bristol makes COVID breakthrough with Oracle

University of Bristol researchers use Oracle high-performance cloud computing to discover a way to inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s ability to spread.

Working with Oracle for Research, we figured out how this immensely intensive type of computation could be done much faster—literally within hours and days.

Imre BergerDirector, Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, University of Bristol

Business challenges

The leading research university in Bristol, England has helped forge innovations in areas ranging from sudden infant death syndrome prevention to nanotechnology.

When COVID-19 hit, researchers at the University’s School of Biochemistry shifted their focus to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To aid global efforts to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, researchers collected terabytes worth of data from the university’s powerful cryo-electron microscope. To process those enormous datasets in a timely manner, the university needed access to high-performance computing capabilities.

Speed is everything in a pandemic, and our colleagues at Oracle made things happen at an incredible pace.

Imre BergerDirector, Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, University of Bristol

Why University of Bristol Chose Oracle

Oracle for Research supported the effort with a one-year grant that included free access to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) high-performance computing capabilities to process large datasets. Collaboration is the heart of research, and Oracle for Research is built on the tenet that collaboration and cross-disciplinary work allows researchers to better solve complex, real-world problems.


Using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure high-performance computing capabilities cut intensive computation time from weeks to just days and hours. Professor Adrian Mulholland and his team created a high-resolution, 3D VR simulation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that better visualized the structure and behavior of the virus. The VR modeling work supported a team led by Professor Imre Berger and Professor Christiane Berger-Schaffitzel, who studied millions of cryo-electron microscopy images in search of new insights. Through the collaborative research of these University of Bristol teams, COVID's weakness was found in the form of a druggable pocket that could be leveraged for antiviral treatment.

The Berger-Schaffitzel team translated the research into a range of therapeutic antiviral products and launched Halo Therapeutics, a biotech startup, to bring those products to market. The company’s first product, which is now preparing for clinical trials, is a nasal spray to target the zone where the SARS-CoV-2 virus invades the body. If approved, Halo Therapeutics antivirals could be used by patients at the first sign of COVID-19 symptoms, or when they have been in contact with someone who has the virus, preventing the virus from taking hold and stopping further transmission.

Published:September 9, 2021