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Chemical Sciences in Development

What We Do: Medicinal Chemistry

Medicinal chemistry is a multidisciplinary, chemistry-based discipline that involves aspects of biological, medical, and pharmaceutical sciences. It is concerned with the invention, discovery, design, identification and preparation of biologically active compounds, the study of their metabolism, the interpretation of their modes of action at the molecular level and the construction of structure-activity relationships.
Since the 19th century, medicinal chemistry has helped transform human health, providing drugs for the prevention and treatment of many life-threatening infections and metabolic disorders and helping alleviate pain and suffering. New drugs are constantly needed, whether to provide better treatment of known illnesses, combat the constantly evolving resistance mechanisms of pathogenic organisms, or provide an armoury of defences against newly emerging infectious diseases that constantly appear.
Since its inception, IOCD has utilized a number of Working Groups (WGs) to promote attention to neglected areas of medicinal chemistry of particular relevance to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); to strengthen the participation of chemists from LMICs in programmes of national and global relevance; and to build capacities for medicinal chemistry in LMICs. Examples of IOCDís work across these areas include:
  • At its inception, IOCD established WGs in Male Fertility Regulation and Tropical Diseases — at the time, both being very neglected areas that were of specific concern to LMICs. Each WG assembled a team of scientists from across the world to engage in the design, synthesis and testing of potential new medicinal agents. Many chemists in LMICs participated in funded synthesis projects and were assisted with advice, supplies and analytical services. The WGs were valued by international partners (including the two WHO Special Programmes for research in fertility regulation and tropical diseases; UNFPA, Walter Reed Army Institute; and CONRAD programme) and helped raise awareness of these neglected areas while providing LMIC synthesis groups opportunities to undertake medicinal chemistry.
    • The Male Fertility Regulation WG worked closely with the WHO Task Force on Male Methods of Fertility Regulation in the 1980s and 1990s. The WG was wound up in the late 1990s when funding for synthesis work in this area dried up,
    • The Tropical Diseases WG continued to operate up to 2010, shifting its approach from synthesis work to participation in meetings for networking and upgrading knowledge and skills. The WG benefitted from an association with the European Cooperation in Science and Technology programme on Drug Discovery and Development for Parasitic Diseases (COST B32) and IOCD provided a number of travel grants for LMIC scientists to participate in COST meetings, e.g. in 2006 and 2007.
  • IOCD has organized international symposia and workshops on medicinal chemistry to facilitate professional updating, training and networking, including meetings in Mexico, France, USA, UK.
The current focus of the Medicinal Chemistry WG is now on capacity building and its principal strategies include:
  • Providing travel grants to LMIC scientists to let them participate in special workshops and training courses around the world. The first recipient of such a grant was Dr Berhanu Abegaz, then in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Botswana. He used the award to attend the VIII Winter Conference on Medicinal & Bioorganic Chemistry in Steamboat Spring, Colorado (USA) in January 2007. Click here to read his abstract. Dr Abegaz has subsequently gone on to become the Executive Director of the African Academy of Sciences.

    IOCD Travel Award recipient Dr Berhanu Abegaz (on the right) explains his research on antimalarials at the 2007 Winter Conference on Medicinal & Bioorganic Chemistry.
  • Organizing a Distance Learning Course on Medicinal Chemistry to help scientists in LMICs gain knowledge about the latest methods to advance their research. This course, available online at no charge (, consists of PowerPoint slides illustrating fundamental concepts in medicinal chemistry and how they may be applied to the solution of problems involved in designing potential therapeutic agents and solving problems that arise in their progression to clinically useful materials. It is divided into four segments: Introduction, Pharmacodynamics, Pharmacokinetics, and Operational Stratagems. Progress through the course is aided by quizzes at short intervals in each of these sections. The course was designed by Dr. Lester Mitscher and is based on presentations he has made in the U.S. and abroad over a number of years. The course content will be updated annually based on feedback from users and the IOCD Executive Board. The Division of Continuing Education of the College of Pharmacy, University of Kansas, adapted the material to a distance learning model using funding from IOCD.

    Recommended technical specifications
    Windows (2000 or later) or Macintosh (OSX or later)
    800 MHz or faster (1.4 GHz recommended)
    256 MB RAM (512 MB RAM recommended)
    Email account
    Sound capabilities preferred
    Color monitor (1024 X 760 pixel resolution)
    Cable modem or DSL strongly recommended (use of 56 BPS modem will be slow)
    Internet provider other than AOL strongly recommended

    Needed free software is described on the course login page, and links for downloading are given there.

    CLICK HERE to access the course.
    The User Name is MDCM and the Password is cmedchem06

Contacting The Medicinal Chemistry Working Group
Dr Lester Mitscher, Chair
Dept. of Medicinal Chemistry
School of Pharmacy
University of Kansas
Laboratory website
Tel: +1 785 864 4562/4495
Fax: +1 785 864 5326
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