After 30 Years of Effort, Synthesis of Compound Brings Hope for Further Breakthroughs in Medicine Development
In what has been termed within the scientific community as a landmark discovery, a fundamental breakthrough, and an unprecedented achievement, scientists at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, have synthesized a powerful anticancer compound. Scientists have been trying to synthesize this compound for more than 30 years.
The compound in question is a naturally occurring component of the sea sponge Halichondria okadai, which was discovered more than 33 years ago. After its discovery, researchers realized that this compound appeared to be extremely potent, and was expected to have strong implications for the treatment of cancer. Dr Yoshito Kishi, the Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry in the department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University led the research effort that led to the breakthrough.
The researchers explained that the essential component required from the sea sponge Halichondria okadai is halichondrin. However, within the sea sponge itself, this molecule only occurs in minute quantities. Thus, in order to study its pharmacological properties and to test its abilities to fight cancer, the researchers needed a way to produce larger quantities of halichondrin.
In previous efforts researchers were able to synthesize small amounts of halichondrin B. Since then, scientists have been trying to scale up the process of synthesis in order to produce enough halichondrin B for research purposes. However, the molecular structure of this compound made its synthesis particularly difficult. In fact, researchers stated that there were approximately 4 billion ways in which the synthesis could fail.
According to Dr. Takashi Owa, the Chief Medicine Creation Officer and Chief Discovery Officer at Eisai’s oncology’s business group, a Japanese pharmaceutical company that worked with the Harvard scientists in order to achieve the required synthesis, “Due to the very unique structure of the natural product, many people were interested in the mode of action, and the investigators wanted to do a clinical study, but a lack of drug supply prevented them from doing it. So 30 years have passed.”
Now, after 30 years, Dr. Kishi and his colleagues managed to surmount the many obstacles involved in the synthesis of halichondrin B. In fact, they achieved a total synthesis of it on a scale larger than 10g with more than 99.8% purity. The findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
The researchers also stressed how far organic synthesis has advanced in the last 30 years. The molecular complexity of halichondrin B and other structurally complex compounds made their synthesis completely beyond the realm of possibility until recently. This breakthrough has opened the floodgates for strategies to synthesize other important structurally complex compounds. This should give all of us hope that the medicines required to cure the diseases that afflict us and those we love will soon be available.
We at Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center always rejoice at developments that offer the promise of better medical care, particularly for the older population.
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