What Are Wonder Drugs?
In simple terms, wonder drugs are molecules known as antibiotics that had a hand in changing the lives of thousands of people over the last century. They were introduced in the 20th century and proved that there was a future in the business of pharmaceuticals. Medicines such as Aspirin, Sulfa drugs, and penicillin fall under the “wonder drug” category.
Their Chemistry and Historical Impact:
One of the first wonder drugs introduced was Aspirin. in 1893, Felix Hofmann, an employee at Bayer, began researching the properties of compounds related salicylic acid, which is a pain relieving molecule found in both the tree bark of the willow genus and in the flowers of meadow-sweet. Even though the molecule has a glucose ring, the rest of its structure allows it to taste bitter and not sweet. Salicylic acid is the most active part of the salicin molecule and has the ability to reduce fever, relieve pain, and act as an anti-inflammatory. While it is more potent than salicin, it irritates the stomach lining, which contradicts its medicinal value. To take away the corrosive aspects, Hofmann used acetyl salicylic acid, or ASA. In ASA, CH3Co replaces the H of the phenolic OH group, which indeed does take away the corrosive properties. As a result, the Bayer company began the marketing of Aspirin in 1899, and it has since become the most widely used of all drugs for treating illness and injury.
In the early 1930’s, Gehard Dogmark discovered the use of prontosil red dye as an antibacterial agent. When prontosil red enters the body, it breaks down into sulfanilamide, which was the active bacteria fighting ingredient of the prontosil red molecule. Once it was discovered that sulfanilamide was the molecule responsible for the anti bacterium properties, the structure of this molecule was changed many times in hopes that it would make the drug more effective. The resulting molecules are all part of the family of antibiotics that came to be known as sulfanilamides of sulfa drugs.
In 1877, Louis Pasteur discovered penicillin, which is a type of mold. This mold was so effective because it was nontoxic, nonirritating, and could be applied directly to the tissue. This is because of the shape of its molecule. Penicillin’s structure contains a four member ring, which is usually not common, in which the bonds form a square. When the penicillin encounters bacteria, the four membered ring opens and effectively deactivates the enzyme that creates the cell wall. Without the ability to grow cell walls, the growth of new bacteria is severely inhibited.
Historically, these wonder drugs have been the most helpful in expanding life expectancy and decreasing the mortality rates. The leading causes of death in the 1900s in the United States were mostly bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gastritis, and diphtheria, and they do not even make the list today with the production of these drugs.
I believe that the impact of these drugs have on the modern world are more prominent than they were when first introduced. The vast majority of middle-aged and senior citizens are being put on an Aspirin regimens by their doctors to help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and deep vein thrombosis. Also, the United States produces over 40,000,000 pounds of Aspirin annually! Another example of how it is more prominent now is the fact that new antibiotics, or new “wonder drugs”, are constantly being tested and put on the market, like a never-ending cycle.
The author was not only able to effectively connect the wonder drugs with one another and show how they evolved into what they are today, but also connect these drugs to molecules that were previously discussed, such as dyes and phenol. They also put it into perspective that science really is an ever-improving process by showing how these drugs were improved upon until they were able to be in their most effective and potent form; it was also shown how science progresses and how one molecule can lead to another molecule , and so and so forth.