American award recognizes Swiss researchers

August 17, 2000

Discovered growth hormone that grew into versatile drug

Wilfried Bauer and Trevor Petcher of Basel, Switzerland, will be honored on August 20 by the world's largest scientific society for their role in discovering octreotide, a versatile drug first used to help patients who suffer from excess growth hormone. As a team, they will be designated one of 12 Heroes of Chemistry by the American Chemical Society at its 220th national meeting in Washington, D.C.

In 1973, researchers at the Salk Institute isolated a hormone, named somatostatin, that suppressed the release of growth hormone. Excessive production of growth hormone -- a condition called acromegaly -- can cause gigantism and shorten life span.

But native somatostatin survives only a short time in living tissue. "That made it very hard to characterize," explained Bauer, a chemist with Novartis Pharma AG. "So we decided to synthesize it in the laboratory in sufficient amounts and set up our own studies."

That project, begun in 1974, culminated five years later with the synthesis of octreotide, a growth-hormone inhibitor. Novartis markets the drug as Sandostatin.

"When you try to improve on nature, the qualities you aim for include stable and longer acting derivatives, selective inhibitory action, smaller size and easy synthesis," said Bauer.

A turning point in the project came in 1979 with the arrival of Petcher, a Novartis chemist who specializes in computer modeling of drug design. "Ideas had been floating around for a few months to try radically smaller compounds," Petcher remembered. He suggested concentrating on this new direction, he said, and "within a few short months we had a compound good enough to submit for clinical investigation."

Those human studies revealed that octreotide can do more than normalize levels of growth hormone. For example, it can treat gastroenteropancreatic, or GEP, tumors.

"We all remember a patient who went from permanent hospitalization and a very poor prognosis to leading an active life and taking up jogging again," said Petcher. "This was a great satisfaction for the entire team."

Novartis is now also testing octreotide's ability to prevent damage to the eye's retina that is common among patients with insulin-dependent, or type I, diabetes.
The Heroes of Chemistry program, started in 1996, honors industrial chemists and chemical engineers who create commercially successful products that improve the quality of life.

8/18/00 #12865

A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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