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The medical benefits of a little chemistry know-how


I've been writing about medical science for close to 20 years now, and in that time I shudder to think how often I’ve written stories about basic science discoveries that could result in potential future drugs.

I wasn’t exaggerating in those stories. The scientists I had the pleasure of working with really were hopeful about the potential of treating patients. But developing a drug is a long and arduous process and not all discoveries lend themselves to drugs.

As I wrote in a story today:

The chemical in the pill we swallow has to survive the burbling acidic soup of our stomachs and the digestive enzymes capable of reducing steak and potatoes into tiny particles. Once in our bloodstream, a potential drug has to endure the liver's attempts to detoxify it, and then reach the cell in question and – the hardest part – actually work.

Overcoming those obstacles and turning that discovery into a drug requires medicinal chemistry know-how as well as a detailed knowledge of the drug development and approval process, which aren’t skills in the toolbox of most biologists.

In today’s story, which describes a discovery in pancreatic cancer cells by gastroenterologist Anson Lowe, MD, that could result in a new drug for several different types of cancers, I also got to write about a new medicinal chemistry program started by Stanford ChEM-H.

ChEM-H is a relatively new interdisciplinary institute with a focus on bringing chemistry expertise to issues in human health. With their new medicinal chemistry program, the institute is hoping they can help people like Lowe fulfill the promise that I’ve written about in so many stories – that of turning a discovery into a drug that helps people.

Previously: Stanford ChEM-H bridges chemistry, engineering and medicine, Listening in on the Ras pathway identifies new target for cancer therapy, and New clues arise in pancreatic cancer from Stanford researchers
Photo from Shutterstock

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