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January 19, 2010
What Should Non-Chemists Know About Medicinal Chemistry, Anyway?
It's been a busy day on the front lines of science around here; apologies for not getting anything up until now. Here's a topic that I was discussing with some colleagues not too long ago: how much do we need to know about each other's specialties, anyway? I'm assuming that the answer is "more than nothing", although if someone wants to make the zilch case, I'd be interested in hearing it done.
But once past that, what's the optimum? I (for example) have never done cell culture. Nor do I see myself ever needing to do it (and anyone who needs me to is clearly in a bad way). I know the broad outlines of the field, but almost none of the details, and I'm sure that even my broad outlines have some faint parts in them. So if I'm at some sort of meeting where the problem-of-the-day turns on cell culture issues, I can be of no help at all. Is this a problem? I understand that different cells take to culture conditions differently, have varying growth rates, need media changes and whatnot, can generally only be passaged a certain number of times, etc. In short, I know roughly what to expect from my cell culture colleagues, and what would be silly of me to demand. Is that about right?
After all, I don't expect them to know the ins and outs of medicinal chemistry, particularly the synthetic organic lab part of it. Things like methylene chloride being rather more weirdly polar as a solvent than you'd expect, or the fact that some amines will stick to solid magnesium sulfate drying agent (but not sodium sulfate), or how you can azeotrope out acetic acid with toluene, or how you want palladium tetrakis to be lemon yellow and not orange - these and dozens of others are the tricks of my lab trade, and they don't know mine in the same way that I don't know theirs.
But I do like it when my biology colleagues have the broad outlines - that molecules with chiral centers, other things being equal, are often harder to make than achiral structures, that sticking a lot of cycloalkyl grease on a molecule is asking for metabolic trouble (no matter what it does for the potency in the assays), what sorts of things tend to make a molecule more (or less) soluble, and so on. Those are the equivalent of me knowing that primary cell lines lose some of their functions in culture, the difference between transient transfection and a stable cell line, etc.
It seems to me that each discipline in our business could draw up a list of What Everyone Else In the Company Should Know about their area. So, to start off with, I'm throwing the comments section over to what biologists (and others) should know, at a minimum, about med-chem. Take it away!
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