Established in 2011, Van Andel Research Institute-Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica (VARI-SIMM) focuses on structural biology, specifically the signaling mechanisms of important hormones. The partnership supports exceptional research at both institutions and provides access to a wide range of scientific resources.

SIMM is a part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is one of the oldest research organizations focused on drug discovery in China. Its scientists have discovered many new drugs that treat various conditions.

VARI-SIMM scientists have several projects underway, including:

G protein-coupled receptors
VARI-SIMM scientists are studying the structure and function of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), specifically 5-HT1B and BLT1 receptors bound to agonists. 5-HT1B is a protein found through the brain that may be associated with the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. BLT1 has been associated with immune response and inflammation.

Plant hormones
Work is underway to identify the receptor for strigalactones, hormones that are vital for plant branching, symbiosis in rhizobium formation and parasite weed germination.

Drug discovery targeting nuclear receptors
VARI-SIMM scientists are developing drugs that target nuclear receptors, specifically PPARγ. These studies have significant implications for treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and diabetes.

EZH2’s role in gene target activation
EZH2 has been associated with the silencing of more than 200 tumor suppressor genes; however, studies have also indicated that it may play in a role in target gene activation.



H. Eric Xu, Ph.D.

Dr. H. Eric Xu is the distinguished director of VARI/SIMM and has led a laboratory since his arrival at the Institute in 2002 His laboratory uses a multidisciplinary approach involving molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, and X-ray crystallography to study proteins of hormone signaling pathways. Major programs in the lab focus on the family of nuclear hormone receptors, on the MET receptor, and on G protein-coupled receptors. Research on the nuclear hormone receptors has identified important characteristics of the ligand-binding domains of these receptors as well as the discovery of the dramatic expandability of the glucocorticoid receptor ligand-binding pocket. Dr. Xu’s studies on the receptors for the plant hormone abscisic acid were named as part of Science’s 2009 Breakthroughs of the Year.