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Contact: Chriss Swaney
(412) 268-5776

For immediate release:
April 24, 2001

Carnegie Mellon Researchers Are Developing A New Molecular Template For Drug Makers

PITTSBURGH‹Carnegie Mellon University researchers are creating a new molecular template that may lead to major breakthroughs in the way drugs are manufactured for the pharmaceutical industry.

Chemical engineering researchers Andy Gellman and David Sholl are developing new solid surfaces that can be used to distinguish between the "left-handed" and "right-handed" versions of molecules that appear identical. Both researchers are developing surfaces that will help the pharmaceutical industry determine the molecular properties of drugs.

The research is vital for developing more economical and purer drugs for consumers and physicians as the $145 billion pharmaceutical industry struggles to shorten the time-to-market for a blockbuster. A blockbuster is a drug that sells for more than $1 billion per year.

So, Gellman and Sholl are creating a new class of surfaces that will help drug makers quickly determine if a drug is "left-handed" or "right-handed." They are testing a variety of surfaces, and have found early success with metals such as copper and platinum. Such metallic surfaces tend to be more useful at higher temperatures than organic surfaces.

"By synthesizing or purifying the drugs more efficiently, Carnegie Mellon researchers may help extend the life of some drug patents and they may make some drugs more economical by getting them from the lab to market in record time.

For example, delay in the launch of a blockbuster pharmaceutical product by only one month can cause the loss of more than $30 million in revenues over the life of the drug, according to the American Marketing Association.

The design and separation of left- and right-handed molecules in drugs also can have a tremendous impact on the use of certain drugs. Take the case of thalidomide, for example.

First marketed for respiratory infections, thalidomide was later prescribed in concert with other chemicals as a sedative and treatment of morning sickness. While the left-handedness of the drug had a proven therapeutic track record, the right-handed molecules of the drug were eventually linked to physical birth defects.

"This was a highly unusual case, but we are developing a set of surfaces that will permit researchers to control a drug's molecular structure and help prevent such treatment errors," Sholl said.


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