“Heroes of Chemistry” for saving teeth, clean water, new high blood pressure drug
WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2009 — You’ve never met Sumita B. Mitra, Ph.D. But your teeth probably have encountered the results of this scientist’s research. Her genius has helped restore millions of decayed, broken, or discolored teeth to their original bright white, natural beauty.
Raise a glass — make that water, please — to toast and honor William E. Mickols, Ph.D., and the late John Cadotte. Millions of people might well do exactly that. Mickols and Cadotte invented the filters used around the world to remove salt from ocean water. In desalinating seawater, the filters transform the world’s oceans into a drought-proof source of fresh water for drinking, irrigating crops, raising livestock and sustaining industry.
Ever clap you hands and cheer a favorite baseball or football team? Why not applaud the scientific team that in 2007 put on pharmacy shelves in the United States the first new type of medicine in more than a decade for high blood pressure? High blood pressure is a key factor in heart attacks and strokes that affect one billion people worldwide. And nearly 700 million people are not getting effective treatment.
Getting the idea?
The American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, puts unsung heroes like these in the limelight once a year, and is announcing the newest inductees into its Heroes of Chemistry “hall of scientific fame” that recognizes the achievements of chemists in industry.
Mitra, Mickols and Cadotte, and a team of 12 scientists from the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, based in Cambridge, Mass., are ACS’ 2009 heroes. Mitra is with 3M ESPE Dental Products Division in St. Paul, Minn. Mickols is with the Dow Water & Process Solutions, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Mich.
“Heroes of Chemistry is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the people behind the products, medicines, and technology that are the foundations of modern society,” said ACS President Thomas H. Lane, Ph.D. “It puts a human face on chemistry. These products don’t just magically appear. Men and women like our 2009 Heroes invent them, develop them, and bring them to market.”
The 2009 Heroes of Chemistry will be honored here during ACS’ 238th National Meeting. The recognition ceremony and dinner is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16, at the Park Hyatt Washington DC hotel. John LaMattina, Ph.D., former Senior Vice President of Pfizer Inc. and former President of Pfizer Global Research and Development, will be keynote speaker. He is the author of Drug Truths: Dispelling the Myths about Pharma R&D.
Mitra invented a whole genre of new materials — including “white fillings” — that dentists around the world use as adhesives to glue crowns and veneers to teeth and to repair decayed, cracked or broken teeth. These materials are thick, semi-solid dental composite “resins” that harden quickly when the dentist exposes them to a curing light. They match the color of a patient’s natural teeth, maintaining those bright, toothy smiles.
Experts regard Mitra’s “resin-modified glass ionomner technology” as a landmark in modern dental materials. Placed inside when a cavity is ready for filling, for instance, it prevents hot-cold sensitivity and secondary decay. Repairing that decay — which occurs under fillings — costs patients and insurers almost $5 billion annually in the United States alone.
Mitra also invented the first universal or multipurpose dental nanocomposite filling material that can be used for all kinds of tooth repair. Based on nanotechnology, and marketed as 3M ESPE™ Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative, it hardens into a material with all the strength and glossy, translucent appearance of natural tooth enamel. It is the No. 1 selling dental composite in the United States.
“Dr. Mitra’s extraordinary inventions have changed the field of dentistry for dentists and patients around the world,” said Fred J. Palensky, Ph.D., executive vice president, Research and Development and chief technology officer at 3M. “Her discoveries will influence and benefit society for decades. The financial impact of her work is enormous and far-reaching. To date, her research has resulted in commercialized products that have contributed nearly $2 billion to 3M’s revenue.”
ACS is honoring Cadotte and Mickols for developing the modern membranes used in the world’s largest desalination method — termed reverse osmosis (RO) — for removing salt from seawater and brackish water so that it is fit for human consumption. In reverse osmosis, pumps force salt water through a membrane. Salt and other unwanted materials in the water can’t pass through the membrane and stays behind in one tank, while fresh water collects on the other side of the membrane.
In the 1970s, Cadotte invented the FT-30 polymer and process for making it into a membrane. This is the polymer and process used by almost all of the world’s current producers of RO membranes. Mickols later improved on that work. He invented high-efficiency FilmTecTM RO membranes that can treat up to five times more water per hour, with two to four times greater energy-efficiency and lower cost. Sales of these membranes from Dow Water & Process Solutions generated $320 million in revenues last year.
“Nine billion gallons of drinking water and industrial process water are being produced every day around the world with Dow technology,” said William Banholzer, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief technology officer at Dow. “This technology has had great benefits to humanity. Supplies of clean fresh water are under enormous stress because of global population growth, environmental degradation, and climate change that is altering patterns of water availability in complex ways.”
ACS is recognizing the Novartis team for discovering aliskiren (marketed as Tekturna® and Rasilez®), a new medication for high blood pressure. Members of the team include Nissim Claude Cohen, Richard Göschke, Peter Herold, Robert Mah, JÜrgen Maibaum, Joseph Rahuel, Vittorio Rasetti, Pascal Rigollier, Heinrich Rueeger, Walter Schilling, Stefan Stutz, and Yasuchika Yamaguchi.
Tekturna® treats high blood pressure in a way fundamentally different from the dozens of medications for that condition. It works by interfering with the action of an enzyme called renin, which is produced in the kidneys. Renin triggers a process that can contribute to high blood pressure. As scientific understanding of renin grew in the early 1980s, pharmaceutical companies around the world began searching for renin inhibitors. The Novartis team developed the first such drug approved for use in the United States, and so far the only direct renin inhibitor available to patients.
“The Novartis team made remarkable progress in developing this new drug,” said Scott A. Biller, Ph.D., vice president and head of global discovery chemistry. “It provides powerful blood pressure lowering efficacy that lasts for 24 hours and beyond with excellent tolerability, which is comparable to placebo. Tekturna® and Rasilez®, has demonstrated organ protection potential beyond current treatments, by reducing key markers of kidney disease and heart failure.”
Launched in 1996, the Heroes of Chemistry program honors chemical innovators in industry “whose work has led to the welfare and progress of humanity” in a significant way in the past decade. Candidates are nominated by their companies and an ACS panel reviews the nominations with an eye toward recognizing research that has lead to the successful development and commercial sale of a technological product.