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Wender receives national chemistry award

Paul A. Wender, the Francis W. Bergstrom Professor of Chemistry, was honored for his discoveries of Chemistry professor new ways to assemble medically important compounds by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. On March 31, at its national meeting in Dallas, he received the society's 1998 Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry.

Wender describes his scientific approach as "chemistry, leavened with biology and mixed with medicine." He is well known for his total synthesis of taxol, the chemotherapy drug that is arguably the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of ovarian and breast cancers in 20 years. He was at the forefront of the late-1980s' race to assemble the molecule in the laboratory, an important competition because harvesting the compound from its natural source ­ the bark of the Pacific yew tree ­ would be ecologically damaging.

Although partial synthesis of the drug has proven more economical, Wender's total synthesis led to the discovery of new taxol analogs and three fundamentally new classes of reactions that can be used in the syntheses of a variety of drugs.

Currently Wender and his 35-member research group are studying a drug named bryostatin that he calls "the taxol of the future." Like taxol, it cannot be harvested from its natural source, a sponge-like marine animal. It also appears to kill cancer cells in an unprecedented way, without damaging the immune system. Last year, Wender's group synthesized some simple versions of the compound and have proposed a model to explain its cancer-fighting properties. In a recent evaluation using human cancer cell lines, these analogs exhibited potencies significantly greater than that found for drugs currently in clinical use and for bryostatin itself. Combined with the fact that bryostatin already has shown positive effects in the clinic, Wender characterizes these preliminary results as extremely encouraging.


By David F. Salisbury

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