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May 11, 2011
In Memoriam, Two Chemists
Word reached me yesterday that Corwin Hansch, long of Pomona College, had died. Anyone who's ever done (or thought about) trying to apply mathematical techniques to compound structure-activity relationships has internalized some of his work. (Here's an intro, for those who haven't encountered classical QSAR).
I was quite excited about using such techniques (and their successors) early in my career, but ran into difficulty applying them in the real world. There were several complications - our compounds were (very likely) in several different SAR series, so combining them wasn't doing the analysis any favors; we had gaps in the compound space that would have helped refine the calculations (but were difficult to prepare and not felt to be worth the trouble to make), and, perhaps most importantly, the underlying assay data might not have been as tight as it needed to be to give sensible answers. These problems are not unique.
But that said, Hansch deserves a lot of credit for going after the whole idea of applying linear free-energy relationships to med-chem activity, and for having the fortitude to do so in the computationally deficient early 1960s. It's because of his work (and the many people who followed his lead) that we've come to realize how tricky these problems are. He was indeed a pioneer.
I've also been remiss in not mentioning the unexpected death of David Gin of Illinois and then Sloan-Kettering. Gin was an excellent synthetic chemist who tackled some very difficult problems in carbohydrate chemistry, among other areas - here's just one example, and there are many more. He surely had many more discoveries left to make, and his loss is a loss to the field.
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