Pennsylvania chemist wins national award for drug research

Roger M. Freidinger of Lansdale, Pa., will be honored March 25 by the world's largest scientific society for his achievements in designing and making compounds to treat disease, especially drugs based on the building blocks of proteins. He will receive the 2003 Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

Peptides, short chains of amino acids, exert a wide influence on the body -- from digestion and respiration to nerve-cell communications and blood pressure, even growth. Thus pharmaceuticals based on peptides in theory have great potential.

"However, usually they don't work well as drugs because they tend to break down too quickly in the body," said Freidinger, who is executive director of Merck Research Laboratories' medicinal chemistry department. "So part of my job is to design and synthesize molecules based on peptides that are more potent and last longer in the body for possible use as therapeutic agents."

One of his earliest projects was to devise a way to stabilize peptides, ultimately designing chemical bridges called lactams that locked in the molecules' spatial geometry and made them less digestible to the body's enzymes.

"The peptide community conferred a rare honor on Roger when the term 'Freidinger lactams' was introduced into the literature," wrote a colleague in nominating him for the award.

Since then Freidinger has worked on a variety of peptides and disease targets, including tumor-specific agents and enzyme inhibitors. He and his colleagues are currently investigating possible treatments for neurological conditions.

As a boy growing up on a farm in Illinois, Freidinger said he originally thought he would find some career in agriculture. "Then when I was in grade school, my parents bought me a chemistry set and I set up a makeshift lab in our basement," he remembered. "Later I had a really dynamic [chemistry] instructor in h

Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

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