Graham Richards' work on molecular wavefunctions for diatomic molecules extended to drug molecules as a result of an approach from James Black of Smith Kline and French. That work culminated in the discovery of cimetidine (Tagamet) and a Nobel Prize for Sir James. It also provoked the publication of Quantum Pharmacology by Richards (Butterworth, 1977) which had a significant impact on the research habits of the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.
As computer power grew it became possible to deal with larger molecular systems right up to proteins and DNA with full incorporation of solvent molecules in statistical mechanical simulations. The advent of colour workstations and computer graphics saw the development of the new hybrid field of molecular modelling and computational chemistry which was first given the sobriquet `computer-aided molecular design' in a paper published from the PCL in 1985.
The predicted structure of a protein (putidaredoxin) and its docking to the enzyme cytochrome P-4500
The group of Graham Richards has for many years been producing computer software which was useful to the pharmaceutical industry. Generally this was given away or sold for a nominal sum, but it was inconvenient for its recipient since the programs were not documented and the group had no means of supporting the software; neither did the graduate student authors receive any financial benefit even when grants were barely enough to live on (£2900 per year in 1989).
In 1989 a change of government policy allowed Universities to own their intellectual property. This provided the spur for the creation of Oxford Molecular Ltd which has Graham Richards as chairman and his former student Tony Marchington as managing director. The firm is one-third owned by Oxford University and one-third by the supporting venture capitalists. It aims to take academic software, bring it up to commercial standards, document, market and service it, with royalties being paid to the student authors. In its first year of trading the company did over £1M of business, mainly with the pharmaceutical industry, and in the eighteen months since being founded has grown to a company of eighteen employees. This year it outgrew its original premises in the University Science Area and moved to the Magdalen Centre, Oxford Science Park at Standford-on-Thames where it continues to provide welcome extra computer cpacity as well as a source of funds.