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New way to make drugs found

26th March 2007

Earth's diverse biosphere is constantly yielding compounds that have huge potential medicinal value against a wide range of diseases, including the most deadly.

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But the elaborate procedures needed to synthesise these naturally occurring compounds in the laboratory are often a barrier to commercial development and production.

A recent study by the US-based Scripps Research Institute has found a revolutionary new way to sythesise complicated organic compounds which both cuts the number of procedures required, and increases the amount of product at the end of those procedures.

The team, led by chemist Phil Baran, has now disproved a notion laid down in organic chemistry textbooks that additional reagents - known as protecting groups - are needed to 'protect' certain parts of organic molecules during synthesis.

Instead, Baran's team managed to harness the ability of those parts of the molecule to react, rather than suppressing it.

"Use of the techniques the group has developed could therefore lead to substantially reduced production costs for natural products," the team said in a statement.

"This is a critical concern, as identification of a reasonably economic means of production for marine and other natural products is typically one of the most challenging hurdles in a potential drug's commercial development."

The report, entitled "Total Synthesis of Marine Natural Products Without Using Protecting Groups", was published March 22 in the journal Nature.

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