Unnatural success

Chemists report the first synthesis of a promising antibiotic that other researchers recently discovered in nature. With the recipe in hand, scientists can pursue modifications that might make the compound more effective.

Earlier this year, a team from Merck Research Laboratories announced the discovery of platensimycin, a small molecule produced by the bacterium Streptomyces platensis (SN: 5/20/06, p. 307: Bug Zapper: Novel drug kills resistant bacteria). Platensimycin killed certain drug-resistant pathogens by disrupting their synthesis of fatty acids.

After seeing that “exciting report,” K. C. Nicolaou of Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., says, he and his colleagues devised a strategy to synthesize the compound. The 16–step lab process builds the compound’s two halves separately and then joins them.

The researchers describe their work in the Oct. 27 Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Nicolaou’s group is now working to improve the synthesis strategy and to modify the antibiotic. For instance, the Merck team had found that mice required a continuous infusion of the drug, an indication that the drug might break down too quickly to be effective in people. Nicolaou says that his team will try to develop longer-lasting forms of the compound.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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