Forgione conclusions: synthetic organic chemistry 

By Dawn Wiseman

At first glance, synthetic organic chemistry might seem like an oxymoron. The term makes more sense when explained by one of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s newest faculty members, Pat Forgione.

Pat Forgione has come to Concordia to study the chemistry of medicines. Magnifying glass

Pat Forgione has come to Concordia to study the chemistry of medicines.

“The field of synthetic organic chemistry is focused on the creation, or synthesis, of completely new products from organic molecules.”

Forgione joined the department in July after several years in the Montreal area labs of Boehringer Ingelheim Ltd., a pharmaceutical company specializing in both human and veterinary medications.

His return to academia was prompted largely by an interest in the supervision of students.

“At Boehringer, I had the opportunity to supervise co-op students. It gave me a great deal of satisfaction, and it got me thinking that maybe I should align my career more with opportunities which involve the mentoring of young people.”

Forgione will have a relatively gentle introduction to students with one undergraduate class this term and the supervision of a graduate student, who arrived last week.

But, as he pointed out with a wry smile, “I’m also writing grants.”

Forgione’s research has two main thrusts.

The first focuses on improving the efficiency of production for a group of molecules known as heteroaromatics. These molecules are valued in the pharmaceutical industry because of their ability to cross the cell membrane and impact processes within the cell.

Right now they have several drawbacks for large-scale pharmaceutical use: their production results in undesirable by-products and requires high temperatures for synthesis.

“Neither of these issues prevent me from producing the molecules in the lab,” he said, but, in the scaled-up processes of industry, polluting byproducts and energy consumption are significant concerns which impact cost-effectiveness.

He is hoping to address another problem with the help of colleagues from Concordia’s Centre for Research in Molecular Modelling (CERMM), leveraging their expertise in digitally modeling processes that occur within and between molecules.

By rendering the mechanism at work in the heteroaromatics in a visual format, Forgione expects to find clues which will contribute to the development of methods that will allow for more efficient and controllable synthesis.

His second area of research focuses on pharmaceutical treatments for Hepatitis C.

Approximately 3 per cent of the world’s population is infected with Hepatitis C, a virus transmitted primarily through unscreened blood products, intravenous drug use and sexual contact. At this time, the only available treatment is time consuming, costly, side effect-ridden and only about 50 per cent effective.

What researchers do know is that when viral loads in the body are reduced sufficiently, the immune system can actually clear the virus itself, and so most current research is looking at ways to block viral reproduction.

Forgione’s research will centre on protease inhibitors.

“The protease has a very specific job in Hepatitis C reproduction,” he said: it acts like a pair of scissors, cutting a replicating virus at a precise point in the reproductive process. Forgione’s research is looking at molecules which have the potential to fit nicely inside the protease, essentially jamming the scissors.

“It’s an exciting area of research because there are a number reproductive mechanisms involved in Hepatitis C reproduction.”

He added that with different teams around the world working on blocking different mechanisms, the potential exists for the eventual development of a cocktail of drugs for Hepatitis C treatment, “Each attacking the virus in its own way.”

Given the rigours of pharmaceutical testing and human trials, the treatment is a number of years off, but Forgione believes Concordia will contribute to the eventual result.

“It’s an exciting time of renewal in teaching and research at Concordia,” he said, “It’s a good time to come here.”


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