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Oregon State chemist wins national award for synthesizing molecules in nature

James D. White of Corvallis, Ore., will be honored Sept. 9 by the world's largest scientific society for discovering ways to make complex molecules in the laboratory, often those that show promise as drugs such as anti-cancer agents. He will receive the 2003 Arthur C. Cope Senior Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New York.

"My whole approach to becoming a synthetic organic chemist came from making things with my hands," said White, a chemistry professor at Oregon State University. As a boy growing up in England, he explained, "I was always into fiddling with things I was a model airplane buff as a teenager, for example."

He describes his work now as "essentially molecule-building, putting pieces together with elegance and skill." In a career that has spanned more than four decades, he and his research team have achieved that goal a remarkable 45 times, recreating natural products made by plants, microorganisms or animals.

Researchers often look to synthetic methods because harvesting a compound directly from nature especially in quantity, as in the case of a successful drug candidate may be too expensive or its source too scarce.

One of White's projects in recent years has focused on epothilone, a compound derived from bacteria that shows promise as a treatment for cancer. Early clinical studies show it attacks the same cell processes as taxol, itself a natural product first found in the Pacific yew tree.

Epothilone "caught my eye in the mid-1990s," he said, "and it looked like we could plan its synthesis with little problem. And we did, with a unique and successful 25-step synthesis."

A U.S. pharmaceutical company has since expressed interest in using White's synthesis to develop the compound, and indeed epothilone may one day replace taxol in treating cancer: "The molecule certainly can be synthesized in sufficient quantity, and completely in the lab," unlike taxol, he sa
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Contact: Sharon Worthy
s_worthy@acs.org
202-872-4371
American Chemical Society
22-Aug-2003


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