Combinatorial Chemistry: A Powerful Tool Emerges for the Pharmaceuticals, Materials, and Chemicals Research Industries

combinatorial chemistry comprises a series of technologies capable of rapidly synthesising and generating millions of related compound collections. These have prospective value as pharmaceuticals, catalysts, or other materials. Combinatorial technologies offer significant advances over traditional scientific research methodologies. In particular, their high-speed approach promises faster results at considerably lower costs than conventional techniques. A recent analysis by Technical Insights (, a business unit of Frost & Sullivan titled 'Combinatorial Chemistry', reveals that such attributes have underlined the assimilation of combinatorial chemistry into the drug discovery process, where expenditure and time-sensitivity issues are paramount. The globalisation of the drug market and the need to swiftly uncover treatments for an ever-expanding roster of identifiable diseases are further bolstering demand. "Drug companies hope for three new drugs a year to stay competitive. That becomes even more critical as patents on popular drugs run out and generic copies come to market, and as the government puts pressure on drug costs through Medicare," comments Technical Insights Research Analyst Miriam Nagel. With its ability to offer higher quality leads in the testing phase itself, combinational chemistry constitutes a powerful tool for drug discovery and development. The seminal human genome project is also expanding the use of combinatorial searches. Computerised scrutiny of a projected 30,000 genes and thousands of proteins is expected to yield information on hitherto unidentified drug targets. Combinatorial technologies alone are expected to be able to efficiently process such a mass of information. With time and money at a premium, the trend is toward collaborative ventures between drug and biotechnology companies, as the former seek to speedily usher novel and superior drugs into the market. With outsourcing R&D needs and cost-sharing being the order of the day, biotech companies are increasingly eager to muscle their way into this lucrative market. The clamour for catalysts from the chemicals and materials research industries is also enlarging the market for combinatorial chemistry. The developmental processes are more complex in these markets due to the large body of variables under consideration. This makes combinatorial technologies the ideal mechanism to produce rapid results. "Materials development requires significantly different techniques from drug research. Unlike focused chemical synthesis for diversity within known metrics, in materials development, there are synthesis, mixtures, and process variables with an emphasis on broad coverage and synergy. The development of a catalyst is difficult and individual for each system, and each could involve several molecular species and process variables," Ms. Nagel continues. Environmental pressures also stimulate the creation of new catalysts. Such catalysts are considered integral for reducing emissions from fossil fuel burning and boosting the viability of alternative energy sources such as fuel cells. Success will depend on sustaining the gains promised by combinatorial technologies. As Ms. Nagel says: "For instance, when combinatorial technologies are used in the development of catalysts, evaluation of potential candidates is followed by scaling up to next generation candidate level, which is a costly and time-consuming process". The most pressing technological challenge will be to effectively marshal the vast quantity of information that will inevitably be generated.

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