Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Break, Links, Survey

As we reach the end of Just Like Cooking "Year 1," I wanted to first and foremost thank everyone who dropped in to say hello. I hope you enjoyed it, maybe even learned something, and that my posts prompted some discussion among you and yours.

Brief Survey: What would you like to see as the Blog moves forward? More "everyday chemistry?" More reactions? More structures? More media diatribes? More "deep questions?" Or something I haven't mentioned? 

Please let me know in the comments...thanks!

In case you're up late during the holidays, and want something chemmy to sink your teeth into, here's some link love:

Synthesis of Halichondrin C (seriously, isn't Kishi like 125 years old? Still kickin' though!)
Scalable Enantioselective Total Synthesis of Taxanes (well, we're a few C-H oxidations away from curing cancer here, but it's a stab in an interesting direction)
Paul's "Chemmy" Nominations, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all readers. Happy New Year, too!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pharma Mascots - Cartoon Stand-Ins for Disease

Credit: Time Magazine

While glancing through some magazines yesterday, I came across a troubling ad for Abilify (aripiprazole). It’s not the drug that irks me, but rather the imagery - in the ad, depression takes the form of a sad, hovering blue bathrobe, stalking the nervous patient down the sidewalk.

I get it. Abilify helps a lot of people with severe depression feel normal enough to get outside and live. But the picture carries a menacing subtext: Without this med, depression will cover you and weigh you down, like a thick, fuzzy robe of gloom.

This is, of course, nothing new. Marketers make their livings playing on our subconscious reactions to colors, smells, and situations. But pharmaceutical marketing takes the message one step further. Many people recognize the signs and symptoms of disease: sore joints, skin discoloration, cough, fever, blurred vision. But do they know about the underlying condition, or anything about the drugs* used to treat it?

Well, cartoons to the rescue! Nowadays, each med gets its very own mascot, a stand-in for all the aches and pains brought on by the specific problem. For Uloric (febuxostat), a gout flare treatment, a man carries an Erlenmeyer flask full of green liquid meant to represent uric acid (which is actually a white solid). His obviously stunted gait and heaving effort evokes gout’s painful inflammation. Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), an antidepressant marketed by Wyeth before the Pfizer takeover, showed a sad, small wind-up doll, meant to show the effort needed to “get going” when depressed.

Lamisil (terbinafine) needed a mascot to represent a fairly common locker room ailment – foot fungus. The myco-avatar? Meet Digger, a small, spiky, yellow critter who represents discomfort and skin discoloration. His long claws are meant to simulate the scratching and burning brought on by infection.

Finally, Mucinex (guaifenisin) gives us Mr. Mucus, a hefty green glob used as a mucus analogy. He is, perhaps, the most over-the-top mascot, in that his only function seems to sit around as chronic congestion might.

Do these disease caricatures actually help someone, say, decide between two alternative treatments? Or appreciate the risks and side effects behind a certain treatment? Or are they just cute graphics to put on T-shirts and coffee mugs?

*In case you’re wondering, I didn’t forget: here’s the structure of the drugs

Update (12/24/11) - Added guaifenisin, generic name for Mucinex. The same generic drug is indeed found in several OTC medications.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ad's the Thing - Science Draws 'Em In

Regular readers of Chemical & Engineering News might have noticed a rather rare, eye-catching advertisement in the October 17, 2011 issue. Takasago, a Japanese fine chemical supplier, took out two side-by-side full-page ads (p.40-41) to illustrate the catalytic ability of their new RUCY hydrogenation complexes. The layout suggests two pages of a scientific lab notebook, complete with hand-drawn structures, a font resembling personal handwriting, a table of reagents, even a digitized signature! (I hesitate to believe this is this scientist’s real signature; legal repercussions aside, many Japanese and Chinese scientists sign documents with a stylized kanji or ink stamp). 

A synthetic chemist captures the thrust of the ad immediately: high-turnover catalysts with high selectivity translate directly into time and material savings. But you don’t have to look far these days for “real-live” (staged) science at its best, selling everything from soaps to microprocessors.

Billy Mays: Oxidant Superstar
I’m reminded of the old dishwashing detergent standard, where a model with long rubber gloves dips a soiled plate into each of two basins, one containing the competitor’s soap, and one with New! and Improved! versions of the blue solution on the right. The grime falls reliably off the desired plate, but the scientific take-home message? Surfactants, formulation, perhaps even enzymatic degradation. It may be exaggerated to make a buck, but the pitch subtly makes you aware of the scientific development underlying the product. The same message pushes through with rust cleaners (solubility, transition metal ligation), or home fragrances (aroma chemistry, vapor pressure, sublimation). Billy Mays (RIP) and his OxiClean never made peroxide bleaching seem so efficient . . . or so sexy.

The real Ajay Bhatt....or Arthur Fonzarelli?
Source: The Oregonian
Don’t think that all these ads just shill for chemistry. Intel’s “Science Rock Star” campaign a few years back featured a strutting, smiling Ajay Bhatt (or his doppelganger), the co-developer of USB technology, proverbially fending off female fans and doting admirers while signing laptops and drinking from his Intel mug. Tongue-in-cheek, maybe, but this ad shines a light on the glaring contrast between the public worship of performers, and the relative ignorance of scientific figures. 

Update (12/24/11) - Added RUCY picture from C&EN