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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: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Up There, and Down Here | Main | A Technical Question »

February 3, 2005

Elbow Room

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Posted by Derek

I mentioned going through the scientific literature yesterday - it's only when you start on a deep search that you realize what huge swaths of chemical space are covered by patent claims. Of course, just about every word in that sentence needs some clarification.

"Chemical space", the universe of possible structures, is of course gigantic. Even if you confine yourself to the basic elements of organic chemistry - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur - you still end up with insane numbers, with ten-to-the-sixtieth-power being one of the orders of magnitude being tossed around. Clearly, in a number that size you could lose all the chemical compounds prepared so far in human history and never see them again.

Plenty of those compounds are found (only) in the patent literature. But chemical patents typically claim much, much more territory than they ever exemplify. I spoke about this last spring.) As I mentioned then, those huge claims don't mean all that much when it comes to spraying down the area against competitor patents. If you want to know more, heaps more, about patentability in these situations, try this section of the US Patent Office's Manual of Patent Examining Procedure. It's an illustration in prose of what the phrase "grind to a halt" is supposed to convey, but I regret to admit that I've read the whole thing.

Back to the outer reaches of chemical space: I'd be in violation of my medicinal chemistry club pledge if I didn't point out that big swaths of it are a priorialmost certainly useless for drug discovery. Molecules can be too big, too polar, too greasy, or too rock-like to ever be of any medicinal use. That much everyone agrees on, but when you start to apply numerical cutoffs to those ideas, the arguing starts. More on this next week.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Patents and IP


1. Ann-onomys on February 9, 2005 6:14 PM writes...

What does this really have to do with chemistry? I have a report in my Chem-Com class, and so I have to do something related with chemistry. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

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