Alan Harvey is a professor of pharmacology in SIPBS. He studied pharmacy and then pharmacology, and has been an independent researcher since 1974. He works on the physiology and pharmacology of synaptic signalling, with particular interests in drugs and toxins affecting receptors and ion channels. He discovered the dendrotoxins, small proteins from mamba snake venoms that selectively block some types of potassium ion channels in neurons; these toxins have become standard pharmacological tools for investigating the role of particular ion channel sub-types in cellular physiology. In an extension to that work, he and collaborators in Sweden, Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay went on to discover other novel toxins with unusual chemical and pharmacological features: the fasciculins (the most potent and selective inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase), muscarinic toxins (the most sub-type specific compounds for studying muscarinic acetylcholine receptors), and the potassium ion channel blocking BgK and ShK; the last of these has formed the basis of an immunosuppressant drug that is in clinical trials. Recent toxin-related research was through involvement in a European consortium (“CONCO” - http://www.conco.eu/index.html) that explored the pharmaceutical potential of novel peptides from marine cone snails, particularly for treating patients with drug-resistant pain. He is President of the International Society on Toxinology (http://www.toxinology.org/) and is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Toxicon (http://ees.elsevier.com/toxcon/).
Together with colleagues in phytochemistry at Strathclyde, Alan Harvey has developed the use of natural products in drug discovery. This has been based on developing a facility for the rapid screening of chemicals on cell-based and molecular assays and on building up a world-wide network of natural product collaborators. The network involves groups in 20 different countries; it pioneered access and benefit-sharing arrangements for natural products that are compatible with the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity; and it created one of the most biodiverse screening collections available.
Alan Harvey has given many invited lectures at international conferences on toxins and venoms, natural products and drug discovery, and the academic-industrial interface. He has published extensively, with over 250 publications. On-going research activities include:
- discovery of new toxins that can be used as experimental tools to help understand the control of the excitability of nerve cells and the chemical signalling between nerves and muscles; and development of specific inhibitors of neuronal sodium ion channels as potential analgesics
- linking with clinicians to study the underlying pharmacological effects responsible for currently unexplained symptoms of victims of envenoming by snakes
- use of natural products in screening campaigns for potential leads for new medicines for cancer, inflammatory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and metabolic diseases and as antimicrobials and anti-parasitics
- cell-based and molecular based drug discovery for prostate cancer
- development of new assays for drug discovery projects
- use of leads from traditional medicines in drug discovery projects for diabetes and trypanosomiasis