In June, Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ) donated its natural products library to the Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research (Doylestown, PA) along with a grant. The library is one of the more diverse in the world and consists of over 100,000 extracts. While I am not familiar with all the details of the arrangement, I do understand that the collection will be available to researchers around the world.
This should come as no surprise since the company stopped screening for natural product drugs a few years ago and shut down its discovery operation in Madrid (which exists independently as Fundacion MEDINA). Nevertheless, as a former Merck employee, it is like watching your childhood home get sold. At one point natural products were a big chunk of Merck’s revenue with Mevacor/Zocor being the flag-bearer.
Now it is up to several academic labs and small companies to keep “the dream alive.” Enabling technologies have advanced to the point that isolation and structural elucidation of natural products are no longer “warts.” While small research groups have done some wonderful things with natural products, they do not always have the biological targets to screen against that big pharma does.
I once read that natural product drugs were like aliens – you know they are out there but you just do not know where to find them. This could probably be said about drug discovery and development in general.
About Neal Connors
Dr. Neal Connors is currently the owner/president of Phoenix BioConsulting, LLC (www.phoenixbioconsulting.com); a company providing consulting services to the fermentation, industrial microbiology, biotechnology, and legal sectors.
I read in Fierce Biotech’s April 6, 2011 e-newsletter that an FDA advisory committee has recommended approval of San Diego-based Optimer Pharmaceutical’s fidaxomicin, a narrow spectrum antibacterial for the treatment of Clostridium difficile infections. C. difficile is responsible for 20% of antibiotic-associated diarrhea cases in hospitals.
Full FDA approval of a drug usually follows a positive review from its advisory committees. Approval of any new antibiotic is welcome news given the increase in resistant pathogens. However as a natural product “geek”, I was thrilled to learn that fidaxomicin is a natural product produced by fermentation of Dactylosporangium aurantiacum subspecies hamdenesis.
SIM’s Annual Meeting typically draws an audience of over 700 attendees. The theme for 2011 is “Emerging Frontiers in Industrial Microbiology.” It is an excellent opportunity to present your work and meet with members of the SIM and other colleagues from academia, industry, and government organizations. The conference also represents an excellent venue for student presentations and provides a wide range of networking opportunities.
Looking forward to seeing you at the Annual Meeting in New Orleans!
For updates on the meeting, look for #simam11.
I am honored to begin my term as the President of the Society for Industrial Microbiology (SIM) for 2010-2011. SIM has been in existence for more than 60 years now, and plays the role of a leading society for industrial microbiology and biotechnology globally. I have always made SIM a priority in my professional career. I have thoroughly enjoyed my association with the Society over the years, especially being able to interact with wonderful members, both individual and corporate, and outstanding staff. It is my sincere hope to contribute to the further development of our Society with the participation and support of all our members and directors.