Chemistry International
Vol. 21, No.3, May 1999

1999, Vol. 21
No. 3 (May)
.. News from IUPAC
.. Other Societies
.. Reports from Symposia
.. 1997 Accounts
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Chemistry International
Vol. 21, No. 3
May 1999

News from IUPAC

Research and Training in Medicial Chemistry in South and Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa

Work Rationale
General Considerations
Survey Recipients
Results and Analysis of the Answers Received
Cooperation in Practical Training, Teaching and Research in Medicinal Chemistry
A Crucial Time for Collaboration in Medicinal Chemistry

Professor Antonio Monge Vega, Titular Member of the IUPAC Chemistry and Human Health Division Commission on Training and Development (VII.M.2) and Member of the Working Parties on Medicinal Chemistry Curriculum, Guidelines for Natural Product Collaborations, and Training and Research in Medicinal Chemistry in Developing Countries (Centro de Investigacion en Farmacobiologica Aplicada, Universidad de Navarra, 31080, Pamplona, Spain; e-mail:, contributed the following article. This overview represents IUPAC's efforts to develop an awareness of the state of medicinal chemistry in different geographic areas of the world and a proposal to achieve more effective international cooperation.

Improving therapeutic and sanitary conditions in different countries is a noble objective that, at present, receives much attention from diverse organizations and governments throughout the world. However, it is well known that therapeutic needs differ from country to country. For example, in some countries, the principal health problems are linked to cardiovascular diseases, degenerative diseases, and cancer, while in others, infectious diseases are the principal causes of morbidity and mortality. In each of these cases, medicine, as a sanitary tool, is part of the universal heritage, with important implications for sanitary and economic interests. Medicinal chemists are the health professionals charged with the responsibility of synthesizing new compounds for testing as part of the discovery process for new medicines.

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Medicinal Chemistry Section

IUPAC's Medicinal Chemistry Section decided to gather statistical and anecdotal information about the collaboration and the barriers to progress in drug discovery among countries. We were particularly interested in those countries that are at present unable to contribute a significant part of their resources to research and education in the discovery of new medicinal agents. Our initial actions are intended to determine the current situation; subsequently we will seek channels to facilitate better communication between countries. Here we publish the results of our first study, with the aim of stimulating international contact and collaboration.

This first review considers South and Central America and sub-Saharan Africa. A subsequent study will include other geographic areas of interest, such as Asia.

Work Rationale
A medicinal agent is part of the universal heritage of a nation, in spite of the difference between countries that carry out research on new medicinal agents and those countries that are only consumers of medicinal agents. There are countries that promote medicinal chemistry in their universities, research centers, and industrial companies, while in some others, it is common knowledge that this practice is nonexistent. In others still, it is unknown whether this practice is carried out. The world is constantly changing, and great civilizations have disappeared while new ones have emerged. In this context, is the present situation, in which there are countries that carry out research versus countries that only use the results, likely to continue in the future?

The process of discovering medicinal agents contains both old and new elements: the techniques are new, while imagination is old; the instrumentation is new, but careful and well-documented observation is old; and the reporting methods are new and yet communication, as the most characteristic concept for defining humanity, is old. While large research groups usually carry out discovery of medicinal agents, small groups can also be successful when they know their profession well and when their members are researchers of great talents. The discovery and invention of new medicinal agents calls for well-endowed libraries, but access to these installations no longer requires the immediate physical presence of the researcher; such access can be remote. The discovery and invention of new medicinal agents also requires information, but this tool is found not only in traditional libraries. Can we simply ignore old civilizations that have conserved a traditional medicine which has proved itself effective, despite its vicissitudes?

Events relating to this question date back many years, for example, to the discovery of America in 1492. This example can be applied to today's experience. A continent that was well developed in the arts, philosophy, and sciences, met up with another continent whose development, in general, was very different. These circumstances changed the history of all humanity. But it was in the field of medicine and the area of therapeutic remedies where the great revolution in therapeutics would take place. What has happened since then? The developed countries have considered the traditional medicines of the New World to be of great interest, but they have carried out their research outside the newly discovered territories. This generalization is applicable to Africa, Central America, and South America and has resulted in the development of both research and the derived clinical experience in countries other than those where the native medicinal plants had been found. Thus, many compounds within the scope of modern therapeutics have their origin in plants used in traditional cultures for therapeutic purposes. Current studies with Taxus and Uncaria are examples of this phenomenon.

As a result, the panorama is divided as in the 16th century; however, the situation is not the same. The 21st century will be important for many reasons. The countries of South and Central America and Africa are finding their way in social, political, and even scientific fields. In the near future, true collaboration among countries can be an important alternative, among others, for the global development of medicinal chemistry. Possibly, it is in this context that medicinal chemistry should be developed in the next century.

Cooperation already exists between equals, i.e., well-developed companies and well-developed research centers. The time has come for these organizations to cooperate with lesser-developed institutions. Contemplating our planet Earth from up on the Moon clarifies many things with regard to differences between races, countries, cultures, and levels of industrial development.

With the proposal to search for universal cooperation in the field of medicinal chemistry, the IUPAC group has formulated a work plan divided into two phases:

  • Develop an awareness of the true situation of medicinal chemistry in the different geographic areas of the world.
  • Recommend a proposed set of actions to achieve more effective cooperation.

This report presents and discusses the results of a written questionnaire and interviews carried out in Central and South America and in sub-Saharan Africa.

General Considerations
The survey was designed to cover four distinct areas:

  • teaching of medicinal chemistry
  • research in medicinal chemistry
  • opportunities for development of research, teaching, and training in the field of medicinal chemistry
  • cooperation in practical training, teaching, and research in medicinal chemistry



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