The wonder drugs were a series of drugs found in the early part of the 20th century that revolutionized modern medicine and treatment. Aspirin, prontosil red, sulfa drugs, and the incredible penicillin all topped the charts, but, to first understand their importance, you must understand why they are important—their chemistry.
The first wonder drug to hit the scene was pretty much a new take on an old classic. Aspirin is, basically, the supercharged, hiked-up-on-steroids, seriously-lay-off-the-muscle-milk version of salicin, a molecule whose curative abilities were known for decades. Salicin was derived from the bark of willows, and it could be broken into two parts: glucose and salicylic acid (the oxidized form of salicyl acid). The salicylic acid part is the most important (salicin derived its abilities from it), and so tests were conducted on it to enhance those affects. The result was acetyl salicylic acid, aspirin, where an acetyl group replaced a H atom of the phenolic OH group of the acid, reducing the molecules corrosiveness and supercharging its affects.
The next wonder drug was a hit and miss. Prontosil red was a dye that proved effective against many diseases as it broke down to form a sulfanilamide, which is why some consider this to be a sulfa drug.
Sulfa drugs were the first things people’s minds went to when one would mention wonder drugs. “Yo, how ‘bout ‘dem wonder drugs!” “Oh yeah! Sulfa drug power!” (oh what a simpler time). Anyways (voice trails off), back to the medicine. Sulfa drugs were antibacterials that were produced by varying the structures of sulfanilamides, and were able to prevent bacteria from producing folic acid. They could do this because of the structural similarities of sulfanilamides and the molecule bacteria use to make the acid, ρ-aminobenzoic acid. The bacteria would mistake the sulfanilamide for the ρ-aminobenzoic acid, and use that to try to make folic acid (silly bacteria, sulfanilamides aren’t for folic acid), thus stopping or hindering the spread of harmful bacteria.
The final wonder drug is known to be probably one of the greatest mistakes in history, penicillin. Penicillin contains a 4-membered known as a β-lactam ring, which is unique as it forms 90° angles while most others with C-N bonds form 109° angles. When this drug comes into contact with the enzyme bacteria use to make cell walls, the lactam ring splits open relieving ring strain. An OH group is acylated (H is replaced by CH3CO) and the open ring attaches to the enzyme; the acylation then deactivates the enzyme thus inhibiting bacterial growth. Man! Bacteria just cannot catch a break can they! (I apologize if I led you to believe I was going to discuss how the discovery is a mistake)
Whew! That was a lot of chemistry, but now it’s over and I can begin the historical aspect of these drugs. Yayy!
The wonder drugs were a god’s(gods’)-send to the 20th century, raising the average life expectancy to about 60-70 years for most people. People no longer had to fear the strange little creatures known as bacteria, in fact, they even began studying them more and more. The wonder drugs, also, launched many companies into fame and fortune, such as the Bayer Company (almost synonymous, today, with aspirin). Medicine became a big deal once the wonder drugs hit, and now advancements are being everyday because of them!
I feel that Penny le Couteur and Jay Burreson’s arguments made a lot of sense (maybe, because there weren’t all that many). How wonder drugs were able to revolutionize medicine and such. Yeah.
I believe the importance of the wonder drugs lies not in what they were able to accomplish when they were introduced, but instead it lies in what they helped create (since many are no longer in use today). A new era in medicine was ushered in as a direct result of the wonder drugs; medicine was no longer only found naturally, the path to artificiality had begun (and no I do not mean personalities). Just think about how many lives were saved as a result of these drugs (directly or indirectly), and how many more will continue to be saved all thanks to the wonder drugs. Wow!