“You encounter a lot of failures,” Friedman said. “You make a compound, the compound is not potent. You make another compound, the compound is not selective. That can go on for a while unless you’re working off a strong hypothesis.”
Medicinal chemists, like Frank and Friedman, often have to design and make thousands of compounds over the course of a project. Each compound is tested and evaluated for positive and negative features, and those learnings feed into the next round of design and synthesis. The process is repeated until they find the one compound that works.
“Once you figure out how to make a new compound, things really start to unfold and can become really exciting,” Friedman said. “Nothing excites you more than success.”
The success of this strategic approach – called rational design and synthesis – at AbbVie has helped scientists more efficiently investigate potential small molecules that may have therapeutic benefit.
“Even if a compound is incredibly hard to make, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make it. Once we’ve critically evaluated compounds in silico and convinced ourselves that a compound needs to be made, then this compound will be made because there’s almost nothing that we cannot make,” Friedman said. “That’s our spirit here at AbbVie.”