Introduction

Peter Drucker, the preeminent management thinker of the twentieth century, described the pharmaceutical industry as an information industry [1]. Drucker's premise was that the value of the medicine lay not in the individual product, which may cost only pennies to manufacture, but in the knowledge, accrued through years of research and development, to create the medicine. The hierarchy from data through information to knowledge can be considered as the formulation of relationships, patterns and principles between each stage [2,3]. What then can be considered the "knowledge" in the field medicinal chemistry and drug design?

Medicinal chemists, by profession, are searching for new drugs - typically small organic molecules - that treat disease. The initial chemical starting point can come from (i) systematic screening of large numbers of compounds in biological assays, (ii) the selective optimization of off-target activities of known compounds on new pharmacological targets, (iii) modification of an existing lead or drug or (iv) the rational design of a drug from knowledge of the molecular mechanism. The vast majority of drug discovery projects today begin with a hypothesis targeting a specific molecular (usually protein) target.1 A drug discovery project starts in which medicinal chemists attempt to achieve several goals historically the exact molecular targets may have been unknown and only the specific effect of a compound on a biologically relevant assay was known. A return to approach of screening compounds blindly against phenotypic assays, irrespective of molecular assay is gaining popularity once more due to the rise of chemical biology [4].

ANNUAL REPORTS IN MEDICINAL CHEMISTRY, VOLUME 41 ISSN: 0065-7743 DOI 10.1016/S0065-7743(06)41029-0

© 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

• to find a drug molecule that affects the molecular target;

• to deliver this drug to the tissue/organ where the target is expressed;

• to maintain sufficient drug concentration in vivo for a desired time;

• to avoid affecting other molecular targets that could cause adverse effects.

In pursuit of those goals, medicinal chemists typically start with one or several lead compounds and then go through an iterative optimization process to turn lead compounds into clinical candidates. Medicinal chemists have to make a choice, at every iteration, about which compound(s) to make next. The sequence of these choices determines the path to an acceptable candidate, the quality of the candidate and the time and cost of finding it. The proposition by Ackoff and Emery that knowledge is essentially the efficiency of choice [2] is one that the medicinal chemistry can relate to. Ackoff and Emery propose that knowledge consists of at least two different senses: possession of facts (or awareness of a state of affairs) and possession of skills. Ackoff and Emery's dual nature of knowledge provides a useful framework for understanding of what medicinal chemistry knowledge is and how it enables chemists to be productive. The distinction between the possession of facts and the possession of skills is the distinction between ontology and epistemology. Ontology concerns what entities exist and what statements about them are true. Epistemology concerns how we can obtain knowledge about facts in the world and how can we ascertain their reliability.

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