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Drugs from bugs

Job Lecture to discuss natural sources of pharmaceuticals

By Kelly Foss

Is the era of discovery of new drugs from natural sources ending? A presentation by Dr. John Vederas, the Department of Chemistry's 2011 Job Visiting Professor, will examine some of the current problems faced by drug discovery efforts that employ natural sources.

Dr. Vederas is the Canada Research Chair in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Alberta. His public lecture, Drugs from Bugs and Other Natural Sources: An Endless Frontier or is the Bloom Off the Rose? will take place June 15.

Over 200 years ago, a 21-year-old pharmacist's apprentice isolated the first pharmacologically active pure compound from a plant – morphine from opium produced by cut seed pods of a poppy. The discovery of penicillin in 1928 ultimately prompted massive screening of microorganisms for new antibiotics and eventually about 80 per cent of drugs were either natural products or analogs inspired by them.

With such a successful record, it might be expected that isolation of drugs from living organisms would be the core of pharmaceutical discovery efforts and widely supported by the public. In contrast, many large pharmaceutical firms have eliminated such research in the last decade. Academic support for isolation and structure elucidation efforts is difficult to obtain and increasingly, the public is turning to alternative medicine including herbal therapies and "natural" mixtures of unknown efficacy.

In his lecture, Dr. Vederas will examine some of the current problems and describe exciting possibilities offered by emerging discoveries and new technologies.

Dr. Vederas is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Society of London as well as an Alberta Centennial Medal recipient. He has received numerous awards from the University of Alberta and from his peers. He is the author of over 250 research publications, four books and 13 patents.

A bequest from the Job family of St. John's, a historically prominent Newfoundland mercantile family, has enabled the department to finance an annual lecture series. Each year a distinguished chemist of international repute is invited to join the department for one to two weeks. In addition to the formal lectures, this gives faculty and students the opportunity to meet intellectually and socially with some of the most prominent chemists of the day.

Drugs from Bugs and Other Natural Sources: An Endless Frontier or is the Bloom Off the Rose? will take place June 15 at 3:30 p.m. in the Science building, St. John's Campus of Memorial University, Room SN-2109. A wine and cheese reception will follow.

He will also give several research lectures including: Diaminopimelate and Lysine Formation in Bacteria and Higher Plants: An unusual enzyme mechanism, on June 13 at 1 p.m. in the Junior Common Room; PKS Enzymes From Fungi: Protein Machines That Build Complex Natural Products, June 14 at 11 a.m. in C-3033 and Synthesis, Structure and Activity of Sulfur-Containing Peptides from Bacteria, on June 14 at 2 p.m. in C-3033.