Corante

About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Emolecules
ChemSpider
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
PubChem
Not Voodoo
DailyMed
Druglib
Clinicaltrials.gov

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
Kilomentor
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
ChemBark
Realizations in Biostatistics
Chemjobber
Pharmalot
ChemSpider Blog
Pharmagossip
Med-Chemist
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
SimBioSys
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Depth-First
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa


Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
FuturePundit
Aetiology
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Sciencebase
Pharyngula
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net


Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
GruntDoc
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine


Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem


Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Instapundit
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus


Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Drug Prices and Costs - From the Mail | Main | How Drugs Die »

February 16, 2004

The Old Days, Some Older Than Others

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article on the front page: "In Two Generations, Drug Research Sees a Big Shift." It profiles Leo Sternbach, discoverer of the diazepams (Valium being the most famous) and other drugs, and his son, Dan Sternbach of GlaxoSmithKline. The elder Sternbach has been at this stuff since 1940, so he's seen the lot. (The article isn't online, but an earlier account of his research is here.)


He began work in the era of open buckets, wooden paddles, and trying drugs out on yourself to see if they did anything. After one of those, he recounts, "For two days I was not at all well." In my first job, I overlapped with just a few people from the last of the era, and they had similar stories. The thought of eating one of my own research compounds has always given me the shakes. No thanks - not before a whole long list of mice, rats, and larger mammals have had their turn. Believe me, no one does that today, and anyone who did would be asking for huge amounts of trouble. It's interesting to note, though, that the practice doesn't seem to have done Sternbach any long-term harm, since he's 95 and all. I should note, for balance's sake, that other chemists from even earlier days are known to have poisoned themselves but good through such techniques.


I found the article particularly interesting because Dan Sternbach was a professor of mine when I was in graduate school at Duke in the mid-1980s. He left for greener Glaxo pastures while I was there, but I did take his class in frontier molecular orbital theory. (That's yet another of the things I learned in grad school whose applications since then I can count on my fingers. It's hard to explain briefly for my non-chemist readers, but here's a PDF to give you the flavor of it.) I would have found it pretty interesting to know, back in 1984, that Sternbach and I would end up at competing drug companies. At least once, to my knowledge, we've been competing in the same area of research at the same time. His years at Duke meant that he started in industry just three years before I did, actually, although with his running start he certainly came in at a higher level.


One Sternbach story I have is when a group of us were grading exam papers for a section of sophomore organic chemistry he was teaching. We attacked it as a team, each person taking on a set of questions and grading the whole class's answers to them, passing the papers on to the next person for them to check their section. One of us hit a paper where the student had made it about halfway through an answer, and had scribbled in a frustrated "I can't remember the goddamn equation!" We all enjoyed that one, but as his paper made it around the table, it turned out that he had a couple more similar fits: "Don't know the goddamn reaction!" and so on. When it came time to total up the scores, Sternbach looked at the guy's exam and mused "I should just write on there: '148 out of 200, Goddamnit!' "

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Industry History | Press Coverage


COMMENTS

EMAIL THIS ENTRY TO A FRIEND

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):




RELATED ENTRIES
Scripps Update
What If Drug Patents Were Written Like Software Patents?
Stem Cells: The Center of "Right to Try"
Speaking of Polyphenols. . .
Dark Biology And Small Molecules
How Polyphenols Work, Perhaps?
More On Automated Medicinal Chemistry
Scripps Merging With USC?