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June 27, 2008
Unknown - But You Can Buy It
I sketched out a rather small molecule the other day, a perfectly reasonable looking thing, which nonetheless had absolutely no references in Chemical Abstracts. (I’d certainly like to be able to put up a drawing of the structure, but it’s something that I have a work-related interest in, so it has to stay under wraps). But it’s something with only a dozen or so heavy atoms, most of them flat and aromatic – you’d certainly expect something to have been made like it, but apparently not.
This has happened to me many times over the years. Now, you can obviously get into unknown territory immediately if you start looking for bizarre compounds: I don’t happen to have SciFinder access here on the train this morning, but I’m willing to bet that (for example) three-membered rings with one carbon, one boron, and one silicon are pretty wide open for some brave weirdo to explore. Enjoy!
But you don’t have to go that crazy to leave the paved roads behind. Many reasonable low-molecular-weight areas are only very lightly explored. You can get out of the universe of known compounds very quickly, for example, by searching for spirocycles, particularly with an oxygen or nitrogen or two scattered into the rings. Most of these would surely be interesting scaffolds for drug discovery libraries, if there were reasonable chemistry to explore them with. Even some perfectly normal looking substitution patterns of monocyclic compounds haven’t been looked into – I dreamed up a series of oxazole derivatives not long ago that no one’s ever made, and there’s nothing odd about them at all.
As you’d expect, there’s a commercial niche here. Novelty is a key requirement for patentability, so seeing no references turn up around your interesting structure is good news from an IP standpoint. (It may be bad news from a laboratory standpoint, though, because sometimes these things are unknown for a reason). But not always: there are companies that pride themselves on being able to supply such unknown scaffolds and libraries. The perfectly reasonable-looking diazabicyclo compound shown here, for example, has no references in SciFinder, but can be purchased on a multigram scale. (There are about fifty derivatives of that bare scaffold known in the literature, which makes it pretty much uncleared ground compared to the absolutely pulverized IP landscape around, say, piperazine). Next time you're searching for such things, refine your answer set to give only those compounds with no references, and take a look at how many of them are commercially available anyway. . .
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