Author: Katharine Sanderson
Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to bet on the idea that simply switching a hydrogen atom with a heavier isotope in a currently approved drug could create a better drug. Encouraged by results from clinical trials, companies are snapping up intellectual-property rights on many of the modified drugs.
On 16 March, for example, Concert Pharmaceuticals of Lexington, Massachusetts, reported results of a phase I clinical trial for a version of the antidepressant paroxetine, sold as Seroxat by GlaxoSmithKline and first marketed under that trade name in 1992. Concert's version swaps out one or more of the hydrogen atoms in the paroxetine structure (see 'Drug modifications') for deuterium, a heavier isotope of hydrogen that contains a proton and a neutron, rather than just a proton. The company was testing this deuterated version for treating hot flushes without the side effect of standard paroxetine in which the liver enzyme CYP2D6 is inactivated. Because this enzyme metabolizes many other drugs, inactivating it means it is hard to take other drugs along with paroxetine.
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