Each year in the US about 106,000 people die from prescription drugs, out of all the 783,936 deaths due to medical mistakes. The damages caused by the side effects of drugs result in exorbitant costs in terms of death and trauma for the consumers and huge losses to the pharmaceutical companies as well.
For example, recently a popular pain relief drug
not only caused trauma for patients, the manufacturing company too had to compensate those affected with large sums of money.
However, now the researchers may just have discovered a new way to formulate pharmaceutical drugs
that are a lot more safer. The discovery took place after a Duke University chemist devised a method that would yield safer and better drugs. The work has been published in the international edition of the European journal Angewandte Chemie.The Two faces of Drugs
Drugs are made from molecules and some of these molecules have two shapes, left and the right. However, often it's just one of the forms of such molecules that's needed to treat an abnormal medical condition, the other version is either useless or can even be harmful leading to undesirable side effects, which can sometimes result in death.
An instance of such a phenomenon was evidenced by studying the morning sickness relieving drug Thalidomide. Thalidomide, a central nervous system drug
was found to cause birth defects as the unwanted copies of the therapeutic molecules in it turned out to be harmful.The Innovation
Up to now when the medicines comprising synthetic ketone molecules were formulated, both the versions (left and right) of the molecules were produced, with one of them causing side effects.
Furthermore, scientists had been looking forward to develop a technique that would yield only the useful form of a molecule. This technique to make only the useful molecule is known as asymmetric synthesis.
Although, during the past 20 years asymmetric synthesis was successfully accomplished, it was costly and time consuming. For instance extreme conditions such as low temperatures of about -100 Celsius are needed in addition to other time consuming steps.
The newly devised method for ketone synthesis is much faster, cheaper and less wasteful than other techniques available at present. Further, it requires less extreme conditions. For instance the new process needs temperatures of – 40 Celsius as against – 100 degree Celsius.How is it Achieved?
To achieve asymmetric synthesis an assisting molecule called "chiral auxiliary" is used to join additional pieces to the molecule being constructed, this leads to the production of the correct form of the molecule. Later the assisting molecule or the "chiral auxiliary" is easily and effectively removed from the main molecule leaving only the desired molecule behind.An Opportunity for the Pharmaceutical Companies
As often is the case that side effects of drugs arise from the fact that they carry additional and unwanted molecules, the new process will help the pharmaceutical companies to make purer medicines containing only the molecules needed.
The need to manufacture better drugs has also been highlighted by a recent Canadian study, where out of 1,017 patients treated in the ER, problems of 40% stemmed from adverse drug reactions and 60% of these cases weren't preventable. Most of these drugs fell in the category of anti-infective drugs
, pain relief drugs and central nervous system drugs.
Another opportunity for pharmaceutical companies lies in leveraging the process to increase the expiry of their patents. If drug manufacturers
can launch purer versions of their drugs they may be able to extend the expiry by another seven years.
At the same time generic drugs have their own unique place and a range these drugs continue to help millions around the world. Some of these drugs are cancer drugs e.g. methotrexate
, anti-infective drugs e.g. sparfloxacin
, antihistamine e.g. fexofenadine
, anti diabetic drugs e.g. glimepiride
The remarkable and novel process certainly appears to offer the producers of medicines a welcome chance to deliver improved pharmaceuticals.