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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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February 18, 2009

Supplies of Suppliers

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Posted by Derek

When I joined the Wonder Drug Factory in late 1997, you still had to buy chemicals by writing down the name and catalog number on a form (and press hard; it was one of those multicolor triplicates). I thought that was pretty primitive then, since at my previous company we’d already gone to electronic ordering (clunky, especially in retrospect, but a lot better than anything involving blue, white, and yellow forms). But to find out where to buy the chemicals you wanted – now that was a challenge.

ChemSources was the usual solution. That was (is, I guess) a large volume containing compounds indexed by name and formula, with the suppliers listed for each. There was a red one for domestic suppliers, and a similar-sized blue book for international ones. And although it came out regularly, it was perforce always out of date. How could it not be? The suppliers changed their catalogs constantly. For that matter, the list of suppliers changed constantly. It wasn’t unusual to look up a compound, find its only commercial source was some little outfit you’d never heard of, and find on tracking them down that they’d gone out of business the previous year.

No one does it that way any more, of course, and good riddance. ChemSources appears to still be in business, and you can even get their bound volumes for your shelves. But why would you do such a thing? Even they offer online searching - well, for a subscription fee. But why would you do that? There are free sources for basically the same information. If you just want data on some compound and where it might turn up, ChemSpider is a good place to look. And if you want supplier information, eMolecules looks like the place to go. Their model is "basic search for free", and if you want pricing, export of data, or integration with your in-house databases, you can sign up for their "plus" service and pay fees.

And that's pretty reasonable, because I get a lot of use out of the free service, myself. I can see prices in my company's in-house ordering software. But I'm not one of the most price-conscious chemical consumers out there, since I'm mostly ordering small quantities of a lot of different things. As long as someone isn't egregiously ripping me off, I'm fine (and that's what our Purchasing department is there to check on, anyway, and don't they just love me over there). One of the things that I enjoy about eMolecules, though, is that they help me figure out what a lot of these little bar-coded vials are. There are a lot of suppliers that will send you ten milligrams of stuff with no real label on the vial, just an eight-digit number or the like, which isn't much help. If you don't label them right then - which often involves loading a CD that they shipped with the vials - you can be puzzled in a few weeks or months when you need the stuff again.

But the eMolecules folks have all these people in their files - Life, ChemDiv, Asinex, Specs, ChemBridge, and the other members of the catalog-number-only club. The search isn't perfect (for one thing, they're missing a fair bit of the corresponding CAS numbers to search by), but it's a lot better than anything else I've come across for free.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. cookingwithsolvents on February 18, 2009 9:11 AM writes...

I recommend

Scifinder often has a reasonable "commercial sources" list, too.

All of this is said with the caveat that I don't often order druglike-looking stuff. I am an organometallic/inorganic chemist.

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2. JAB on February 18, 2009 10:18 AM writes...

And then there's ChemNavigator, which is another supplier aggregator. Not free, and they can tack on aggregation and shipping fees that overwhelm a small order, but handy for one-stop shopping. Well-indexed and structure-searchable.

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3. processchemist on February 18, 2009 10:35 AM writes...

for free apart from chemexper: (excellent) (cn, takes most suppliers from the chemcats service list - the one used by scifinder) (few suppliers but good features) (pretty good)
few features for free (more with subscription):

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4. Petros on February 18, 2009 11:09 AM writes...

Is the ACD still around? that was an early electronic compilation from MDL.

For discovery work we rarely bothered about price, just tended to stick to reliable suppliers- Aldrich and Lancaster (RIP) for the most part.

But when we had to do a scale up for development, becuase all the WDF factory's development facilities were in use, I had fun looking around for cheaper sources of starting material.

Amazing how much cheaper D-glutamic acid was on a kg scale than on g scale.

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5. milkshake on February 18, 2009 1:52 PM writes...

Petros: MDL was bought by Symix and they must have figured they were making too little money from standalone ACD database, so they stopped offering ACD. My e-mails to Symix went unanswered. What they want everybody to do now is to subscribe to their expensive and nasty Java-heavy web-based Discovery Gate which has ACD search functionality also, but is slow and the menus sucks so much more. These guys are seriously retarded.

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6. RTW on February 18, 2009 3:41 PM writes...

Check out this link to CambridgeSofts ACX database. Its similar to the ACD, but is updated more frequently. I beleive quarterly.

There is an online subscription available so you don't have to host the DB yourselves.

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7. NH_chem on February 18, 2009 3:43 PM writes...

The ACD via Discovery Gate is OK. It is a little clumsy but does the job. is very useful. A simple Google search usually can get me what I want as long as you can weed through all the bogus overseas sites.............

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8. chemist on February 18, 2009 3:45 PM writes...

That must be a top notch outfit there in Cambridge if you have to resort to "free" searches to source your chemicals!!

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9. milkshake on February 18, 2009 6:29 PM writes...

When I was at Celera - Axys they did not purchase the ISIS/MDL/ACD for some ideological reasons and were using the Bluelight ACD database interface instead. Bluelight sucked in a big way - it delivered only a pre-set number of hits ranked by similarity. If the query input was too broad the search timed out, missing lots of available compounds without telling you. You could never trust that it was a comprehensive search of all available analogs

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10. Morten G on February 19, 2009 3:37 AM writes... is free too

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11. RTW on February 19, 2009 8:41 AM writes...

I should also add that if you have the latest version of ChemBioDraw Ultra, with the ChemACX online subscription you can highlight a molecule in ChemBioDraw application and retreive information from ChemACX directly into the drawing area. This is part of a broader inititive to interface via web services to multiple corporate databases. This could be configured to point to an internal DB of screening results and registration informaton, which would allow quick retreval of information into the drawing for use for example in weekly or monthly reports... Its a pretty slick feature!

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