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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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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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November 13, 2009

Prof. Keith Fagnou

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Posted by Derek

As many readers may have heard by now, Keith Fagnou of the University of Ottawa has suddenly died from what appears to be H1N1 influenza.

I'm awaiting confirmation of that diagnosis, which is worrisome for all sorts of other reasons, but whatever the cause, this is a loss for synthetic chemisty. Prof. Fagnou had published many interesting and useful papers on catalysis of bond-forming reactions, an area that's been growing steadily in importance for years and shows no signs of faltering. We need all the smart, capable people we can get working on such things, and I'm very sorry that we've lost one. Condolences to his family, colleagues, and friends.

Comments (30) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. Anonymous on November 13, 2009 12:11 PM writes...

That would be the University of OttAwa.

Keith was an absolutely brilliant professor, amazing father and wonderful man. It is a sad time for the hundreds of people whose lives he has changed and the thousands of students who will now never have the honour of experiencing him, including his young children.

Swine flu or not, this is just yet another stark reminder that our time here is limited and you have to take every opportunity to tell the people you are close to that you love them. You never know when you won't get another chance.

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3. Anonymous on November 13, 2009 12:48 PM writes...

I took classes from Dr. Fagnou, and can attest to his abilities. What a remarkable person his family & friends, the University of Ottawa, Canada and the field of chemistry has lost.

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4. Anon. on November 13, 2009 1:36 PM writes...

"He had that quintessential Canadian modesty, despite his great success."

That says it all. What a horrible loss for his family, for the community.

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5. Curious Wavefunction on November 13, 2009 2:24 PM writes...

Given his age, accomplishments and promise it sounds like a terrible loss indeed. This should really remind us of how fragile our daily existence is and how much we take it for granted.

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6. retread on November 13, 2009 3:56 PM writes...

The death of Dr. Fagnou brings home to the basically youngish and healthy community of chemists what physicians deal with all the time. From what I've read, he was active and healthy, so he would not have been first in line to receive the H1N1 vaccine. Although at this point there is no evidence that the vaccine is protective (it's just too early), most think it will be. This makes the delay in producing the vaccine in the USA, all the more appalling.

The vaccine is being produced in single vials rather than in batch lots. It takes a lot longer to prepare 100 single doses than a single 100 dose vial. Why did this happen? Because single dose vials use less preservative (read thiomersal, which contains mercury). This, to placate the mercury causes autism crowd.

Yesterday the CDC announced that there have been 4,000 deaths from H1N1 in the USA of which 560 were in children. Assuming the vaccine is actually protective, some of these deaths could have been prevented.

As I noted in the Chemiotics II post of 29 October on the subject "Idiocy has Consequences".

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7. Hap on November 13, 2009 5:05 PM writes...

I thought that at least part of the problem with vaccine supplies was the low yield of its production (about half that of the seasonal strains). It's hard to get enough of the regular flu vaccines (particularly this year because capacity is being used for H1N1), and so even if the H1N1 were being made under similar conditions, it's not clear that there would have been enough around and fast enough to give to people with lower risks.

Prof. Fagnou was doing actual useful research, apparently taught really well, and had a family and children. The fact that this happens lots of places and lots of times to many (also useful) people doesn't make this less bitter.

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8. Aspirin on November 13, 2009 5:27 PM writes...

I am still not sure about the exact differences between H1N1 and the seasonal flu. Does H1N1 actually kill faster than the seasonal, all other factors being equal? Scary cases like this one seem to suggest this. I wouldn't think seasonal would kill an otherwise healthy young individual in three days. Chilling.

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9. Lucifer on November 13, 2009 7:42 PM writes...

About H1N1:

How many people got infected and how many have died in USA since April?

The CDC estimates ~ 22 million cases of H1N1 (

THE CDC also estimates that between 2,500 and 6,100 people (best guess ~ 4000) have died in that same period.

Do the math...

4000/ 22 x 10^6 = a fatality rate of less than 0.2% (2 in every 1000 patients died)

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10. Anonymous on November 13, 2009 10:29 PM writes...

The vaccine is being produced in Canada. It is a different vaccine than that in the States. Ours contains adjuvant and therefore less virus.

Do a PubMed search on it and you will see why it is so much more virulent than regular flu. H1N1 is killing younger/healthy people, which the regular flu usually doesn't.

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11. Hap on November 14, 2009 12:43 PM writes...

I didn't think that H1N1 was a more virulent flu, just that the people it seems to be killing has changed (younger and younger-middle aged people rather than very young and very old people), but I don't know where I got that idea. Of course, if that were true, the problem with that pattern is its similarity to that of the 1918 pandemic, which only managed to kill 20M(?) people.

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12. Paul on November 14, 2009 1:01 PM writes...

The vaccine is being produced in single vials rather than in batch lots. It takes a lot longer to prepare 100 single doses than a single 100 dose vial. Why did this happen? Because single dose vials use less preservative (read thiomersal, which contains mercury). This, to placate the mercury causes autism crowd.

This appears to be a falsehood, which I suspect is being propagated because it is congruent with prejudices.

Multidose H1N1 vaccine vials from 3 suppliers are approved for use in the US.

According to the CDC, supply constraints are due to bottlenecks in producing the virus, and in the amount of virus needed for a single dose.

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13. Polymer Bound on November 14, 2009 2:50 PM writes...

The people I know who have had confirmed cases of H1N1 have told me that this flu is particularly nasty. Seems like in addition to attacking the virus with vaccines, etc. we should be figuring out how to mitigate whatever immune cascade is causing people to die.

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14. Retread on November 14, 2009 7:57 PM writes...

Paul: Well if it's a falsehood, it appeared in an article in the Wall Street Journal 28 October by Scott Gottlieb MD, a former deputy commissioner at the FDA. Check it out. It was my source.

There is no question that there has been a delay, for something the CDC saw coming over 6 months ago.

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15. nitric_oxide_99 on November 15, 2009 7:49 AM writes...

Lucifer - An order of magnitude missing?

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16. ANDY on November 15, 2009 1:36 PM writes...

I am unbelievably shcocked by this news. Keith was in Bssel last year and impressed everybody with his unbelievable talent and his wonderful personality. We had just set up a collaboration with each other which we were both really looking forward to. My heart goes out to his wife and children, the loss of a great man. I still can not believe this.

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17. ortholithiation on November 15, 2009 5:15 PM writes...

Wonderful man. A quote from his correspondence with me. What a great shame.

“Science should be about advancing what we can do and the open sharing of info should lie at the foundation - I also realise that this is not always the case.”
Keith Fagnou

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18. Jordan on November 16, 2009 12:07 AM writes...

The news spread like a shock-wave through the chemistry community here in Canada. He was on his way to being one of the top organic chemists in Canada. It's a tragic and very major loss.

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19. FailedReaction on November 16, 2009 7:38 AM writes...

Keith was truly a great scientist, his inovative C-H functionalisation work has inspired me in my own research and futhered the understanding of these transformations incredibly so. I only had the pleasure to meet him once but it was more than enough to leave the lasting impresion of a generaly great man.

A true blow to science.

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20. Julian {erry on November 16, 2009 7:52 AM writes...

Dammit - why is it that the good die young..

Thankyo - you don't need to be an educationalist yo get your budget (though it sure helps) - but being a naturalist helps.


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21. alig on November 16, 2009 8:58 AM writes...

Lucifer -- Your math was wrong, as nitric_oxide_99 said, you are off by an order of magnitude: 0.02% or 2 in 10,000 is the correct math.
My understanding about H1N1 is it is actually a milder form of the flu, but much more contagious, meaning less deaths per case but many more cases.
Everyone should remember that the seasonal flu kills >20,000 pepole in the US every year and while its is usually the eldery who suffer the most, young people still die every year from the flu.

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22. Lucifer on November 16, 2009 10:51 AM writes...

Please read what I said...

" fatality rate of less than 0.2%"

0.1-0.3% fatality is seen in 'normal' influenza years (strains)

Anything less than 0.2% is essentially less worser than 'normal' strains (as far as the population is concerned'.

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23. LC Square on November 17, 2009 10:36 AM writes...

For those of use who had the chance to work closely with Keith his death was especially tragic as he had become a close friend. He was more than a mentor and I am a better man today for having known him regardless of the chemistry skill-set I developped in his lab.

His legacy lives on, and we all carry a small part of him inside us. RIP Keith.

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24. dave on November 17, 2009 2:13 PM writes...

Lucifer (#9, #22): #15's comment was just about your math error!
Fatality rate is less than 0.02% i.e. 2 in 10000 people (assuming your original numbers are correct).

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25. Cs on November 22, 2009 12:38 PM writes...

I met Keith a couple of time during conferences. More than a smart scientist, he was a remarkable person. Condolences to his family

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26. Northpal on November 27, 2009 1:25 AM writes...

"there have been 4,000 deaths from H1N1 in the USA"
Idiots like you spreading lies like this to frighten the public.
There might have been 4,000 deaths world wide attributed to H1N1, thats it attributed.
Now was there an autopsy on Prof. Keith Fagnou to confirm cause of death ?
If not, why not ?
And if not , how the hell can they claim it was the manufactured H1N1 ?????

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27. retread on November 27, 2009 11:21 AM writes...

Northpal: My source for this statement was Dr. Schuchat of the CDC (USA Center for Disease Control in Atlanta) on 12 November '09. She announced at a press conference that there have been 4000 deaths due to the H1N1 flu virus, of which 540 have been in children. Take your complaint up with her.

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29. Former Student on December 3, 2009 9:39 PM writes...

It is a shame that this posting has turned into a debate regarding the H1N1 vaccine.

Keith Fagnou taught one of my Grade 10 English classes while in Saskatoon, he was one of the few teachers who had genuine concern for his students, made classes enjoyable, and was always approachable. I look back fondly on him as a teacher.

My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and communities of which he was a part.

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30. Retread on December 3, 2009 10:00 PM writes...

#29: The loss of Dr. Fagnou is tragic, and even more so if it was preventable by immunization (we don't really know enough at this point to say). Preventing disability and death is the charge physicians and the pharmaceutical industry are given, so the discussion of H1N1 vaccine here is quite appropriate, particularly given the readership.

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